Alcohol And Habit-Forming Drugs And Their Effect Upon Efficiency
( Originally Published 1917 )
Effects of Drugs.—The difference between foods and drugs has been pointed out, and the effects of certain drugs, particularly alcohol, upon the physical health of the body have been discussed at various places in this book. We have seen that alcohol and other poisons may gravely injure the digestive system, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and liver. Their most serious effects, however, are exerted upon the nervous system and are closely related to the general efficiency of the body as a nervous mechanism. This problem is so important as to deserve discussion in a separate chapter.
Alcohol not a Stimulant.—It was once believed that alcohol was a useful stimulant, and that alcoholic drinks could be used to whip up the bodily machine to make special efforts in some great emergency. It was pointed out in Chapter VIII that alcohol is not really a useful stimulant so far as physical exertion is concerned, and after our study of the nervous system we can understand better just what the action of alcohol really is.
Alcohol, like many other drugs, acts chiefly on the nervous system; it does not serve to make any part of the nervous system work more readily, but numbs or puts to sleep certain parts of it. It acts first of all on the inhibitions, with the result that some of the nerve actions which would ordinarily be inhibited or held in check are allowed to go on more freely. This seems like a stimulation or in-crease of power, but it is really only a breakdown of the system of control. The situation is somewhat similar to the case of a runaway horse. The horse is no stronger, but is much more dangerous, when it is running away than when it is held firmly by the reins in the hands of a skilled driver.
A person slightly under the influence of alcohol may, for instance, talk more and speak more loudly than normally, simply because his thoughtfulness and self-respect and courtesy have been forgotten. Still larger doses of alcohol carry the numbing effect further. The brain becomes more and more clouded, the speech thick, the gait unsteady, and finally a heavy and unnatural sleep may result, followed by headache and acute discomfort on awaking.
At all stages the alcohol is acting, in lesser or greater degree, not as a stimulant but as a narcotic—that is, a drug that puts the nervous system or some part of it to sleep, and numbs the faculties and powers of the body.
The Changing Viewpoint about Alcohol.—These facts were not fully understood until recent years. In former times, people used wine and beer and strong drinks much more freely than they do to-day, for no one realized how much harm was done by them. In some of the older books you read, you may find the use of alcoholic drinks treated as if it were a rather fine thing. No one who has studied the matter to-day, however, doubts that alcohol is a grave danger and a damage to mankind.
During the time when the writer was at work on this chapter, two things came to his notice which illustrated this changing point of view. In a book by a very great physician, he read a passage describing a day spent in a shooting competition fifty years ago, when the physician himself and the other men who were shooting for prizes drank champagne freely during the match, with no idea that it would harm their accuracy. The day after reading this passage, the writer heard a friend describe his work in getting up rifle clubs in which men are learning to defend their country if the need should come. The friend said, "We find these rifle clubs are great things for the men. It keeps them out of the saloon, for of course they all know that they cannot shoot straight if they drink."
Laboratory Studies of the Effect of Alcohol on Efficiency. Many physiologists, who have carefully studied the effect of alcohol upon various activities of the body, have found that the use of alcoholic drinks interferes in a marked degree with work that requires accuracy and quickness. The power of learning by heart or memorizing, accuracy in adding columns of figures, and speed and accuracy in setting type in printing offices have all been studied in this way, with similar results.
The most thorough and careful work of this kind is that which has been carried out by Professor F. G. Benedict and his associates in the Carnegie Nutrition Laboratory at Boston. The way these studies were made can be under-stood by considering one of the many tests that were applied, first to young men who took no alcohol, and then, on another day, to the same young men before and after taking a dose of the drug.
In the particular test in question, words of four letters were printed on a surface which moved along behind a screen. In this screen there was a slit through which each word could be seen as it passed. By an electrical apparatus, the exact time at which the word appeared was recorded to a fraction of a second. When the man who was being experimented with saw the word, he pronounced it as quickly as possible, and the time at which the sound of his voice was heard was accurately recorded by an electrical instrument connected with a kind of telephone receiver. The difference between the time when the word appeared and the time when it was pronounced was a measure of the quickness of action of his nerves and brain and speech muscles.
This was only one of the many reflex reactions of the body which were studied by Dr. Benedict. He measured the rate of closing the eyelid in response to a movement in front of it; the quickness with which the eye could be turned to look from one thing to another; the quickness of finger movements; the sensitiveness of the skin to slight electric currents; and the power to memorize words. The tests of memory and another of the more complicated tests showed but slight effects from the amount of alcohol used in these experiments; all the other tests (nine in all), however, showed a decrease in quickness or accuracy of from 3 to 46 per cent in the persons who had taken alcohol. This indicates very clearly that this drug tends seriously to interfere with the working of the nervous machinery of the body and to make its reactions slow and clumsy.
Relation of Alcoholic Indulgence to Accidents.—The fact that alcoholic drinks interfere in this way with the quick and accurate working of the living machine makes alcohol very often a factor in more or less serious accidents. A great number of automobile accidents are due to the driver's being under the influence of liquor, and the same connection is observed in industrial life. European statistics of sickness insurance societies (which make weekly payment to their members when disabled) show a larger number of accidents on Monday than on any other day of the week. This is generally explained as being the result of intemperance during the holiday, although it is probably in part due to other causes. An American ironworks reports that there was a decrease of 54 per cent in the number of accidents in the plant during the first six months after the saloons in the town were closed.
There are laws in many states which provide for Work-men's Compensation, or the payment of a sum of money to men injured while at work, and almost all of them pro-vide that no payment shall be made in the case of accidents due to intoxication—showing how generally alcohol is recognized as a cause of industrial accidents.
The National Safety Council is an organization which includes eighteen hundred members in over two hundred fifty industries, and represents the employers of over two and a half million working men and women. At a Round Table meeting in October, 1914, this Council adopted the following resolution:
"WHEREAS, It is recognized that the drinking of alcoholic stimulants 1 is productive of a heavy percentage of accidents and of disease affecting the safety and efficiency of our work-men:
"Therefore, Be it Resolved, That it is the sense of this Round Table Meeting at the Third Annual Congress of the National Safety Council, that it place itself on record as being in favor of eliminating the use of intoxicants in the industries of the nation."
What Business Men Think of Alcohol.--In view of all these facts, it has become more and more clearly recognized that alcohol and efficiency in business and industry do not go together.
The Commissioner of Labor of the United States in his Twelfth Annual Report (1897—1898) on Economic Aspects of the Liquor Problem reported the attitude of employers at that time, as indicated by replies to a circular letter from establishments employing a million and three quarters of workers. Of 6976 employers, 5363 reported that in employing new men they considered the applicant's use of liquor as an important factor. In some establishments, no one known to use intoxicating liquors was employed, while in others the rule applied only to especially responsible or dangerous kinds of work. The use of alcohol was prohibited on or off duty for all employees in 696 establishments, and for certain groups of employees in 1283. The use of alcohol while on duty was forbidden for all employees in 855 establishments and for certain groups of employees in 692 more.Alcohol, as we have seen, is not really a stimulant but the word is still often incorrectly applied to it.
A later study of this question, presented by Dr. Alexander Fleisher at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections at Indianapolis, May 14, 1916, shows that there has been rapid and general progress along this line in recent years. Of ten railroads, employing 400,000 employees, all reported rules in regard to the use of alcohol, of which the following is an example, although some of the rules are not quite so stringent: "The use of intoxicants by employees subject to call is prohibited. Their use by any employee or the frequenting of places where they are sold is sufficient cause for dismissal."
One railroad official wrote in regard to this question, "The policy of the company, as expressed by its chief officers in their personal lives and influence, is to eliminate entirely the use of intoxicants, whether on or off duty., With that idea in view, the sale of intoxicants has been taken off dining cars and out of all eating houses where the company is in absolute control. This has been done so as to show the employees an actual example of the desire of the company to remove intoxicants from its premises, and to let those who wish to use them obtain them off the lines of the road rather than on railroad property."
Much the same feeling is shown in the replies received by Dr. Fleisher from street railroads, telephone and gas companies, department stores, mining companies, steel companies, and various manufacturing plants. In these industries, rules against the use of alcohol are not so severe as in railroading, where a moment's slip may mean great danger to hundreds of people. In almost all of them, however, the danger of alcohol is clearly recognized, and everything possible is done to encourage and advance the man who does not drink.
One street railway company employing 8000 men, for instance, has a strict rule against the use of intoxicating liquors and the visiting of saloons. Every applicant for a job is questioned under oath, and if he uses intoxicating liquor he is not employed. Of four steel companies, one prohibits the use of alcohol by employees at any time and the other three have issued notices to the workmen stating that they hope the men will not use intoxicating liquors, that any one using such liquors while on duty will be discharged, and that the man who does not drink will always be given first chance of promotion.
Dr. Fleisher sums up the results of his study as follows:
"We have returns from the employers of 750,000 individuals; this is four per cent of those engaged in trade, transportation, and the mechanical and manufacturing industries of the United States. These employers forbid alcohol in their plants; in many instances its use is considered in the promotion and retention of employees; its use at any time is prohibited in such industries as transportation, and this practice is being followed by some industrial establishments.
"This analysis indicates that a number of employers are making up their minds on the use of alcohol by their employees. By whatever reasoning they are arriving at their conclusion—whether they feel it is in the interest of the public, of the employee, or of good business—they seem to be taking a stand against the man who uses alcohol. They are not considering the intricate questions of the effects of alcohol on the mind and body—these preliminaries have been ignored; they find the non-drinker the more satisfactory employee."
Relation of Alcohol to Nervous Diseases.—So far in this chapter we have been dealing, for the most part, with the effects of even moderate doses of alcohol in lowering efficiency. It must always be remembered, however, that the harm done to habitual drinkers is very much more serious, and a word should be said as to the dangers of a continued use of this poison.
Many unfortunate individuals, without knowing it, come to use more and more alcohol as time goes on. The nervous system gradually comes to crave the effect and requires larger and larger doses to satisfy this craving. Each day the habit seems harder to break off. The moral strength, the will, may be undermined in such a case till the victim becomes a helpless slave to his habit.
The poisonous effects of large and continued doses of alcohol are, of course, very serious. In addition to the injury to the heart and blood vessels, the kidneys and the liver, it is likely that the nervous system may break down. The state of physical, mental, and moral weakness which follows is one of the most pitiable conditions into which a person can fall.
A recent report of a New Zealand State Board of Insanity estimated that about 10 per cent of a group of insane persons owed their condition to the excessive use of alcohol. Other authorities place the proportion much higher.
The Cost of Alcohol.—The price which society pays for the use of alcohol is a heavy one.
Dr. D. B. Armstrong of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor has outlined some of the factors in this burden laid on us by alcohol, as follows:
1. The Annual Cost: The annual cost of the production and importation of alcoholic beverages in the United States is about $610,000,000. What would this mean in accomplishment if the same funds could be devoted to constructive education, to scientific research, or to disease prevention?
2. The Waste from Disease: Besides the not easily measured incapacity and inefficiency resulting from long continued, even moderate, drinking, we have the unnecessary diseases and death from physical and mental causes, involving a tremendous waste in human productivity and human life.
3. The Industrial Waste: The application of sobriety to industry means efficiency, productivity, a decrease in accidents and sickness, and a decrease in wages lost, and in medical cost. Railroad companies and other industrial concerns are realizing the necessity for restriction in this field and are attempting to control the habits of their workers, even during the hours when they are not actually employed.
4. The Economic Wastage Resulting from Poverty, Destitution, and Crime. Under this heading, Dr. Armstrong re-views the conflicting evidence and concludes that to assign 10 per cent of poverty and crime to the direct effect of alcohol would be a very conservative estimate.
Alcohol and National Efficiency.-To sum up, it is clear that alcohol does a great deal of harm to some people and a certain amount of harm to a great many people. The fact that some unfortunates may be ruined by this drug makes us all want to keep the danger out of their way; and knowing the harm that results from even moderate use of alcohol, all of us who desire to make the most of our lives should resolve to avoid it.
No man who wants to do anything difficult, and to do it well, would use alcohol beforehand. No surgeon about to perform a difficult operation would dream of taking a drink. No athlete would think of drinking before running a race.
When a person wants to be at his best, to have his nerves and muscles and his whole body working most smoothly and effectively, he does not use a drug.
So it is with nations. The evil effects of alcoholic drinks upon national efficiency, and the wastefulness involved, were strikingly recognized in the European war. The Russian government stopped the sale of vodka (the Russian strong drink), and the governments of France and England passed laws to restrict drinking. As soon as the European nations wanted to be at their best, to meet a great crisis, they laid aside the burden of alcohol.
At a public meeting held on March 9, 1916, David Lloyd George, the great English statesman, then head of the Government department engaged in organizing the manufacture of munitions, made a remarkable statement about the alcohol problem. He said: "It will be so much better to settle this question by general consent. If we do, the war, horrible as it is, will have paid for itself. There are many things which I hope we can accomplish through this war. There are many changes at home, changes in the outlook of the nation, changes in its temper, changes in its attitude of mind, changes in its industries; but this will be the greatest and most beneficent change of all if we succeed in carrying it through. If we can possibly convince the nation that success depends very largely upon removing this drag on its efficiency, then I feel confident that we shall regard this as our greatest triumph."
Dangerous Medicines.—It is important to remember that both alcohol and many harmful and habit-forming drugs are often taken unknowingly in various kinds of patent medicines. Some of the commonest and most widely advertised "tonics" and "spring medicines" owe any effect they have to the fact that they are composed largely of alcohol. Remedies supposed to cure catarrh, tuberculosis, and other diseases often contain opiates that may lead to a drug habit. Medicines advertised to soothe babies usually contain morphine or opium, and headache cures frequently contain deadly poisons, such as acetanilide. No one should ever use such preparations without first consulting a physician. The well person has no. need of drugs of any kind, and if one is ill enough to need drugs, he is ill enough to benefit by medical advice. Very often the physician will not suggest medicines at all but a change in food, more rest or exercise, or some other precaution in the way of hygienic living.
The Tobacco Habit.—Tobacco is not a habit-forming drug in the sense that opium and morphine are, but it is somewhat like them, since people who smoke are very likely to get into the habit of smoking more and more. The effects of tobacco, when used by grown people, are much less serious than those of alcohol, though tobacco contains nicotine and other poisons in small amounts. The digestion and the action of the heart may be seriously affected, how-ever, by smoking. The hand of a confirmed smoker often trembles from the effect of tobacco on the nerves, and youths who smoke are generally considered unreliable in their work, so that many people will not employ them.
As in the case of alcohol, the cost of tobacco is, in the aggregate, a serious burden on the economic resources of the nation.
Tobacco is especially harmful to young people, and no boy under twenty who cares for his health and strength and success in after life can afford to handicap himself by the use of cigarettes.
Statistics gathered in many different schools and colleges have shown that boys and young men who smoke make a worse showing in their studies than do non-smokers. Professor F. J. Pack, in a study of the scholastic records of a group of football players, found that 101 non-smokers had marks averaging 79.4, while the marks of 81 smokers averaged 74.5. In another series of cases, 82 smokers had 70 conditions and failures, and 98 non-smokers had 43.
Dean Briggs of Harvard says, "The peculiar evil in cigarettes I leave for scientific men to explain; I know merely that among college students the excessive cigarette smokers are recognized even by other smokers as representing the feeblest form of intellectual and moral life."
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REVIEW
1. What did we learn about the effects of alcohol on the heart and the blood vessels? On the kidneys and the liver?
2. What mistaken idea do some people have about the effect of alcohol on the bodily machine?
3. To what organs does alcohol do the greatest harm?
4. In a telephone system, if the wires are interfered with, the messages are either confused or lost, and everything depending upon that system is upset. Compare this with a nervous system under the influence of alcohol.
5. Recall the use of inhibitions. Give an example. Suppose that these inhibitions were temporarily removed by the influence of alcohol. What would be the result?
6. Give an example (not in the text) of a force which is valuable when controlled, and dangerous when turned loose.
7. In the story of the rifle clubs (page 174), why could not the linen frequent saloons and shoot well? Do you think that this would apply to basket ball or football?
8. Describe Professor Benedict's experiment to test the effect of alcohol on quickness and accuracy. What does this show?
9. How does the use of alcohol cause accidents in traffic and in industry?
10. Do you think an employer has a right to say that the men he employs shall not drink intoxicating liquors?
11. Make a list of the effects of alcohol which endanger a man's health. Make a list of those which make him a poor citizen and an undesirable employee.
12. Are the physical effects of alcohol permanent or temporary?
13. Two men had to make an important business decision. One went to bed early the preceding night. In the morning he took a quick cold bath and a good rubdown, ate a light break-fast, and walked to his appointment. The other stayed up late to prepare his arguments, slept poorly because his brain was over-tired, rose rather late, and hurried to the appointment. On his way he took a drink to brace himself for the meeting. Apparently the two men were in equally good condition. Whose judgment would you be more willing to trust? Give your reasons.
14. Discuss some of the principal items in the cost of alcohol.
15. Why did Russia stop the sale of vodka in 1914?
16. Why is it important that all medicines be plainly and truthfully labelled, to show what they contain?
17. What are some of the evils of the tobacco habit?
18. In what ways does smoking affect one's efficiency?