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Danger Line of Drink
Richard R. Peabody
are the signs which indicate that liquor is "getting"
a man? Is it the "hair of the dog" as salutary
as it is supposed to be? Here are five rules by which to
judge whether the road to alcoholism is open.
erect, clear of voice and eye, certainly he did not look
the part of the man who had been "got" by whiskey.
Yet he told me that during the first year of the depression,
when his business fell off seriously, he had been resorting
to alcohol to buck up his spirits and relieve his worry.
There came a time, he said, when he took a drink in the
morning because he was jittery, and these jitters he knew
were different from business worries because they seemed
to come from the previous night’s indulgence. One
day, even though his business had begun to pick up, he found
he could not stop.
a fire gets big enough," he explained, "it creates
its own draft."
he had no idea of it, that man had stepped over the danger
line when he took his first morning drink. He called it
an "eye opener," but it would be more exact to
describe it as a drug to soothe his nerves.
me state once and for all that I have no prejudice against
alcohol as a beverage, and little sympathy for the well-meaning
reformers who run around with sharp sticks chasing Demon
Rum. I recognize that "the cup that cheers" has
advantages of social value. It relieves self-consciousness,
promotes good fellowship, and in general contributes to
the gaiety of many occasions. What I would like to do here
is to indicate to those who are accustomed to drink, and
who know how to handle alcohol (or believe they do), certain
signs by which they may be warned when they are entering
the twilight zone of danger. These signs I have learned
from long observation. It is an old story for me to hear;
"If only I had known ten years ago as much about the
effects of drinking on nervous systems like mine as I do
now, I certainly would have saved myself and my family an
enormous amount of suffering."
everybody knows of some person, too often an intimate friend
or relative, who has "gone to hell" from drink,
and they may know more than one; yet how many people stop
to think of this danger in connection with their own conduct?
course the great majority are so relatively abstemious that
this reflection is not necessary, but there are nevertheless
a great many men who might profitably pause to consider
whether or not drink has become a potential danger to them.
Certain ways of drinking indicate a morbid interest in it.
Sometimes small parties, and even small drinks taken during
certain states of mind are not as innocent as they may seem.
there is no clear—cut difference between what might
be called normal drinking and alcoholism, the way there
is between a broken Leg and a whole one. In dealing with
mental states it is not nearly so easy to make a definite
diagnosis s it is in the physical field when the organs
can be examined by various mechanical methods. So to avoid
wasting our time in hairsplitting we will have to make certain
statements, and then discuss the exceptions.
the opinion of prohibitionists the man who is somewhat under
the influence of liquor every evening is by no means an
alcoholic problem, provided he goes about his business soberly
in the day time and is reasonably sensible while drinking,
he may be a drunkard in the making but he is not one at
what time then in a man’s drinking career does he
show definite signs of alcoholism, either in process or
in fact? One answer is when he begins in the morning. This
is an unmistakable danger signal. When he needs "the
hair of the dog that bit him" to restore his nerves
so that he can get on with the day’s work without
"going crazy" from an indescribable state of depression
and jitters, then he is a drunkard real or potential, the
latter depending on how much the alcohol that he consumed
on the following day after affects him. In other words,
at this point drink has become a drug, and a major drug
at that. A man who cannot go out with the boys in the evening
and return with them to their work the next day because
he is drunk again is a drug-addict, and if he is returning
with the help of a pick-me-up he is a drug-addict just the
drinkers, no matter how much they may have imbibed the night
before, carry on the day without "eye-openers,"
and they do this not because of will power but because the
idea physically disgusts them. Their unhappy friend is going
to have a drink because he is suffering from a painful mental
reaction which they know nothing about, for if they felt
the way he did they would have one too.
my work is confined to treating those who are disturbed
by their excessive indulgence I make it a point to go into
the matter with normal drinkers from time to time in order
that I may be informed as to how, when, and in what manner
they drink. They invariably tell me that, no matter how
intoxicated they may have been the night before, the last
thing in the world they want is a drink the next morning.
I asked a certain patient how he started to drink in the
morning he replied, "About four years ago I went on
a party with a man who was in somewhat the condition that
I am now. The next morning we awoke very much the worst
for wear nervously. This was extremely unfortunate for me
as I had an important and difficult engagement which I seemed
absolutely incapable of keeping. When I told my friend of
my predicament he said, "A hair of the dog that bit
you is all that you need," and forthwith set the example
by having one himself. I had one too, though the idea was
distasteful to me, and in the course of a few minutes I
felt all right. "Now," I said to myself, "I
have found a way to beat hangovers!" And I had for
a while; but as my nerves got worse I had to keep increasing
the dose, until I found I was more or less drunk all the
then who wish to enjoy moderation, interspersed with occasional,
parties, would do well to avoid drinking anything until
lunch time, and if they can wait until after dinner so much
this point I realize that certain readers are reflecting
on the exceptions that they know of, and as a result are
wondering whether I am an extremist who does not know his
business. Are there any exceptions to these somewhat dogmatic
statements? Yes, there are. In fact I once had a patient
whose father took only one drink a day and that was before
breakfast. Nevertheless none of these exceptions is strong
enough to vitiate the fundamental symptoms of chronic alcoholism
as set forth here. However we will take up the most common
instance, there are a relatively few older men who can and
do take a pick-me-up in the morning, not habitually, but
after particularly big parties. These men, because of their
age, cannot be considered alcoholics, past, present or future.
If a man under thirty-five or forty is doing this he’d
better look out, but if he is fifty or sixty and is not
increasing the dose then his habits have unquestionably
crystallized and such ills as result from drinking will
be those of the body. Men who could drink slowly all day
long (and still be a success in the office and home) without
doubt existed a century ago; but high speed business and
high speed pleasure have made such demands on the nervous
system that it can no longer withstand an all-day-every-day
ration of alcohol. Drinking does not help under any condition;
but in this era of keen social as well as economic competition,
the nerves must have frequent respites or we may expect
alcoholic breakdowns on the part of those who persist in
exception is the reunion common to college men, business
associates, and war veterans, to mention just three groups.
Here large bodies of respected men may set out to become
intoxicated for the better part of two or three days or
longer. Conservative people may question the good taste
of these performances, but those who indulge in them cannot
be considered abnormal by any stretch of the imagination.
The obvious reason is that too many normal men do it.
the discouraging part of this change from normal social
drinking to abnormal drug addiction which wrecks so many
lives is that its onset is often insidious. A man may have
a full-blown case of alcoholism before he is really aware
that he is the victim of a dangerous narcotic. He is drinking
the same beverage that he always drank and that his friends
are still drinking with impunity. If he had to retire to
the privacy of his room in order to give himself a hypodermic
injection he would realize that he was doing a thoroughly
abnormal and dangerous thing the first time he did it. But
when he is only drinking a little more of the same old stuff
for a little longer period of time, he fails to, realize
that he too is a "hophead," and it sometimes takes
what might be termed a prolonged catastrophe to educate
a drink in the morning as a relief from the excesses of
the night before is only one danger signal. Another one
is using alcohol as a means of escape from a disagreeable
reality’. Life itself, particularly’ in these
days, provides a good many reasons for nervousness and depression
and so the desire to escape into a pleasanter world of fancy
is pretty strong for many people. But alcohol is intended
to be used for purposes of celebration and not consolation,
for in the long run it makes a poor if not disastrous nerve
medicine. Drink if you like to make a good time better but
never to make a bad time good. Boring social functions may
be excepted from the latter part of this statement. It may
be all right to blow off steam on Saturday night, but the
person who deliberately and with increasing frequency seeks
refuge in the bottle is headed for serious trouble. The
cause may seem justified, but that does not prevent the
end from being tragic. Drinking to escape from the hardships
of life then is the second danger signal.
if it is true that a great many people are worried and unhappy
more or less because of the depression, why is it that alcoholism
has not increased by leaps and bounds? The answer is that
the average man, while he may be unhappy, while he may be
none too strong of will, and while he certainly knows the
temporary soothing effects of a drink, simply does not choose
this way out of his troubles. He instinctively knows that
it will not work, and furthermore that, except for a brief
period, it will make matters much worse. It is not a question
of will power so much as a lack of desire. In this he is
fortunately diametrically opposed to the person whose nerves
have become poisoned by alcohol.
don’t want to weaken the truth of my statements by
being misunderstood and hence considered fanatical. Any
sound theory can be made ridiculous by carrying it to an
absurd degree. Plenty of normal drinkers do seek a party
with their friends because they are "fed up,"
but they do not make a habit of it because they know from
experience that it will work satisfactorily only once in
a while. They go to the great majority of their parties
because their friends are going also, and not because they
are unhappy or worried.
brings us to the third point in our consideration of what
signs indicate that the danger line of drinking has been
or is about to be passed. Is the monthly or yearly dosage
being steadily increased even if slowly? Most men’s
habits, certainly their drinking habits, have more or less
crystallized by thirty. So if a man’s drinking increases
after that he may easily be concerned without being accused
of morbid introspection. A man who is steadily drinking
more at thirty-five than he was at thirty, and more at forty
than he was at thirty-five, has cause for worry, unless
of course drinking has always been a matter of negligible
importance in his life. This increase is often subtle, and
it is generally accompanied by a series of plausible excuses.
But the fact remains that the normal man tends to do most
of his drinking when he is young, and his nerves and body
can stand it. As he advances in age, and responsibilities
develop, he drinks less. In other words he restricts his
consumption of alcohol to that amount which does not injure
his health, his reputation, or his efficiency. Still another
danger signal to bear in mind is how much more, as time
goes on, a person depends on alcohol for enjoyment. Has
he the same enthusiasm (with due regard for advancing age)
as he had five or ten years ago, or is he leaning more and
more on alcohol in his attempt to get happiness out of life?
I do not mean he is depending on it in the same quantity,
to enjoy those social functions where it is habitually used,
but is his drinking slowly becoming a necessary accompaniment
in the gaining of pleasure from those things which used
to be spontaneous hobbies and which should be still? Has
the "nineteenth hole" become the most interesting
one to the golfer, and is the flask as important to the
fisherman as his bait? If so, be careful.
a final symptom to be watched we will add insane conduct,
that is, behavior extremes beyond the point of drunkenness.
Most men who drink to excess at all do something sooner
or later which causes them much chagrin, but the man who
frequently and without cause fights, insults ladies, or
in any way conducts himself in ,a dangerous, crazy, or indecent
manner, shows an abnormal mental deterioration. I am not
concerned here with the moral or esthetic effects of alcohol,
but such behavior as has been mentioned denotes mental,
sickness, and thus it is a danger signal of serious trouble
as we have qualified our statements in the direction of
leniency toward drinking - that is breaking rules without
danger-so in the other direction too much should not be
made of technicalities to bolster up oneself in the belief
that one is indulging in a safe and sane manner. For instance,
the man who waits until lunch time to begin drinking, but
who from that time habitually keeps on for the rest of the
day, need not pride himself that his use of alcohol is safe
and sane. He may have one of those very rare old-fashioned
nervous systems, but the chances are that unless his consumption
and his reactions to it have become fixed for a considerable
period of time he is a semi— alcoholic in process
of becoming a full-fledged one.
sum the matter up, we may say that the danger line of drink
has been reached under the following conditions:
Drinking to get over effects of previous drinking, particularly
when it is done in the morning.
Using alcohol as a means of escape from a disagreeable reality.
Slowly but surely increasing the monthly or yearly dosage.
Depending more on alcohol for enjoyment, particularly in
connection with those things to which it is not a normal
Extreme conduct while under the influence of drink, that
can only be described as "crazy."