The morbid condition resulting from the excessive or prolonged use of alcoholic beverages.Alcoholism and Nervous Disease.
In chronic Alcoholism, or dipsomania, alcoholic liquors have been taken in excessive quantities for long periods of time, and the drug acts as a slow poison, and causes disease in various organs of the body. Bright's disease of the kidneys is so frequent a result of chronic alcoholic poisoning that, according to Pitt, Guy's Hospital reports show that 43 per cent of chronic drinkers are affected by it. Nervous disease, ending in insanity, is a common sequel to alcoholic indulgence; and Savage states, as the result of the examination of 4,000 insane persons at the Bethlehem Hospital, that Alcoholism was the admitted and direct cause in at least 7 per cent of the cases.
Alcoholism is an important factor in the causation of disease; and in all diseases alcoholics are bad patients. In epidemics the mortality among drinkers is excessive; and the general power of resistance to disease, injury, and fatigue is diminished. Dr. Charles H. Hughes, editor of the "Alienist and Neurologist," estimates that 15 per cent of nervous, 10 per cent of digestive, and 10 per cent of heart diseases are due to it.
The mortality from Alcoholism is great, though exact figures are not attainable. Dr. B. W. Richardson estimated the annual number of deaths from intemperance in England and Wales at 50,000, or 10 per cent of the entire mortality ("Cyclopedia of Temperance and Prohibition," Funk & Wagnalls Co., New York, 1891). Alcoholism lessens the chance of life: the English life-insurance companies found that the presumptive length of life of non-drinkers was about twice that of drinkers. Neisson ("Contributions to Vital Statistics," 1857) compared the mortality of 6,111 drinkers with the general mortality of England, and found that there were 58.4 deaths per 1,000 per annum in the former, as against 19 in the latter category. On the other hand, the superior biostatics of Jews under normal conditions is well known, and may be connected with the absence of Alcoholism among them.
The close relationship of Alcoholism and crime is well known; and the statistics of Baer ("Der Alcoholismus," Berlin, 1878), Kurella ("Naturgeschichte des Verbrechens," 1893), Gallavardin ("Alcoholisme et Criminalité," Paris, 1889), and Sichart ("Ueber Individuelle Faktoren der Verbrechens," in "Zeitschrift für die Gesammte Staatswissenschaft," 1890, x.), show that from 25 to 85 per cent of all malefactors are drunkards. The rate of suicide varies with the general rate of consumption of alcohol in different countries (Morselli, "Der Selbstmord, ein Kapitel aus der Moralstatistik," 1881). On the other hand, Jews are little liable to this form of alienation (see Suicide). Intemperance is a contributing cause in 20 to 24 per cent of divorce cases; and its relation to pauperism is a matter of common experience.
The evil effects of Alcoholism are evident in the drunkard's posterity. Sichart found Alcoholism in the parents in 16 per cent, Peula in 30 per cent, and Marro in 46 per cent of large numbers of criminals examined. Epilepsy, insanity, idiocy, and various forms of physical, mental, and moral degeneracy arevery disproportionately prevalent among the offspring of alcoholics. These diseases are also very frequent among Jews, but are certainly not due in their case to Alcoholism.Rarity Among Jews.
Alcoholism prevails all over the world, and is probably increasing, more especially among the northern nations. But among the Jews it is almost an unknown affection. Their sobriety is proverbial; and the experience among Jewish medical practitioners is unanimously to the effect that occasion to observe the disease in the person of a Jew is of excessive rarity. The Jews are undoubtedly subject to nervous diseases to a greater extent than the general community; but this is due to the social and hygienic conditions under which many of them live, and not to Alcoholism. The rate of suicide is far less in Jewish than in other communities; and this is undoubtedly connected with the absence of Alcoholism. Attention has already been called to the intimate connection of the two. It has been suggested that the absence of Alcoholism among contemporary Jews is due to the fact that those addicted to it in the past left families which have died out; but there is no evidence of any prevalence of Alcoholism among Jews at any period.
Statistics confirm the general opinion of Jewish sobriety. Selecting two typical hospitals, as possessing the most trustworthy records, a comparative investigation may be made as to the prevalence of Alcoholism among their patients. The Boston City Hospital has a general clientele in a town that does not contain a disproportionately large number of Hebrews. In 1899 there were 7,104 cases treated there; and of these, 226, a little over 3 per cent, were admitted for Alcoholism. The Beth Israel Hospital of New York city has an entirely Jewish clientele, the proportion of non-Jews treated there being a negligible quantity—not over one-fourth of 1 per cent. Its records show 4 cases of Alcoholism, or diseases directly attributable to it, in 3,000 cases that applied for admission during the last few years. This is a little over one-tenth of 1 per cent. Hence, the records show that Alcoholism is at least thirty times as prevalent among the general community, including the Jews, as in that race itself.
Dr. Norman Kerr, one of the highest authorities upon Alcoholism, says, in regard to drink among the Jews ("Inebriety, Its Etiology," etc., Lewis, London, 1889):
"Extensive as my professional intercourse with them has been, I have never been consulted for inebriety in the person of a Jew; while my advice has been sought for this complaint by a very large number of Christians. . . . In my opinion their general freedom from inebriety in almost every clime and under all conditions (there are a few exceptions to this rule), is as much due to racial as to hygienic influences, and more to racial than to religious influences. This extraordinary people has, amid wondrous vicissitudes, preserved a variety of distinctive characteristics; and I can not help thinking that some inherited racial power of control, as well as some inherited racial insusceptibility to narcotism, strengthened and confirmed by the practise of various hygienic habits, has been the main reason for their superior temperance. Even among those Jews in whom there has been an unusual amount of alcohol-drinking (though they were not 'drunk'), when there has been slight thickening of the speech, glibness of tongue, and unwonted exuberance of spirits, evidencing a certain amount of alcoholic poisoning, I have never detected the existence of the disease inebriety. Of this strong impulse to alcoholism or other narcotism, I have never seen a case amongst this distinctive people."
Other authorities believe that the sobriety of the Jews is rather dependent upon their social condition. Thus Samuelson ("A History of Drink; A Review, Social, Scientific, and Political," Trübner, London, 1880) says:
"Little need be said of the drinking habits of the modern Jews. They are notoriously a sober race, both in England and elsewhere; and their temperance is mainly due to two causes. First, they are a small community; and their partial isolation from other religious denominations has a tendency to make them careful of their morals. The most important reason, however, is that they do not follow any avocations which necessitate great physical exertion. Thus we seldom find them working as artisans or day-laborers; so that there is no great bodily waste to be repaired; and they are, moreover, removed from the temptations to excessive drinking to which the great mass of our working-people are exposed. Among Jews of the middle classes there is more intemperance. . . . As already remarked, however, on the whole, the Jews are a sober and exemplary race, whose habits in this respect are well worthy of universal imitation."