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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Alcohol as a Medicine

Alcohol as a Medicine,

Alcohol Las but a subordinate, value; and that value is chiefly in its action upon the nervous system as a sedative. Many diseases are now allowed to run their course without alcohol, and when we give it, we do not give it as we did formerly, with a view that it cured the disease, but with a view of calming the nervous system during the course of the disease.

In cases where there is a sound constitution and a young patient, any administration of alcohol might be deemed to be an interference with the natural course of the disease, and would not do good. I believe there is still an error with regard to the value of alcohol in disease. The prevalent error is, that alcohol cures the disease, whereas the disease runs its physiological course irrespective of the alcohol. The advantage of alcohol—if it has an advantage—is its effect on the nervous system for the time being, rendering the patient more indifferent to the processes page 2 going on. I am disposed also to believe, although I think we could not do without alcohol as a drug, that it is still over-prescribed. Under the shock of an injury, or the shock which the system may undergo by an operation, the nervous system has to be deadened, and I believe that alcohol is the best agent for that. It is called a stimulant, but we use it more as a sedative, in the same sense as that in which you would use opium.

In cases of feeble digestion alcohol is sometimes given to stimulate digestion. I should not be prepared to go so far. I should be prepared to advise the use of alcohol on certain occasions when a person was ill; but to say -that persons should drink habitually—day by day—I should not be prepared to recommend. All alcohol, and all things of an alcoholic nature, injure the nervous tissues pro tempore, if not altogether. You may quicken the operations, but you do not improve them. And even in a moderate measure they injure the nervous tissues and are deleterious to health.

Alcohol acts upon the brain, and causes the blood to flow more rapidly in the capillary vessels. I should like to say that a very large number of people in society are dying, day by day, poisoned by alcohol, but not supposed to be poisoned by it.

In the case of inebriates, I should, in most cases, not be afraid to stop the use of alcohol at once and altogether; of course, it depends upon the age of the patient. If there were no likelihood of doing any good at all, it does not matter very much what one prescribes; but if the patient was a young man, whose organs were good, that would be a case in which I should stop it. If a patient came before me as a drunkard, and not as a sick man, I would say, get rid page 3 of the alcohol at once. In the case of an habitual drunkard, to whom drinking had become second nature, I would, when he left it off, recommend nothing beyond good food. It would not at first supply the craving, but it would ultimately overcome it.

I do not see any good in leaving off drink by degrees. If you are taking poison into the blood, I do not see the advantage of diminishing the degrees of it from day to day. That point has been frequently put to me by medical men; but my reply has been, "If your patient were poisoned by arsenic, would you still go on putting in the arsenic?"

I should say, from my experience, that alcohol is the most destructive agent that we are aware of in this country.