ALCOHOL, or SPIRITS OF WINE (called also ETHYL ALCOHOL, to distinguish it from other varieties of alcohol).—.A colourless, inflammable fluid with a burning taste and manifesting great resistance to cold. Tempera tures render mercury solid do not freeze alcohol. It is produced by fermentation from sugar solutions, the sugar being converted into alcohol and carbonic acid. It is also commonly made from potatoes and grain, such as barley, rve, corn, and rice. These plants contain starch, Nvhich, under the influence of certain fermentative processes known as malting or mashing, is split up into sugar and other substances. The addition of water induces fermentation, which results in the production of alcohol, such as that contained in beer or whisky. In the latter the percentage of alcohol is increased by the process of distillation.
There are various strengths of alcoholic fluids. Absolute alcohol is entirely free from water, and the ordinary Cologne spirit is 90 per cent., or even 95-96 per cent. alcohol. Next in strength comes rum, which is largely made from sugar-cane, and which may contain as high as jo per cent. of alcohol ; arak, made from rice or palm wine, ?Vith 5o per cent. ; and French cognac, distilled from wine, which contains almost as much. The ordinary whiskies contain from 40-50 per cent. alcohol, while the German whisky, " branntwcin," varies between 3o and 40 per cent. In the cheapest as well as in the most expensive whiskies, there are present, in addition, certain amounts of amyl, propvl, and other alcohols, known collectively by the name of fusel oil, which are highly poisonous. Wines and beers, are not sub jected to distillation, contain much smaller amounts of alcohol : Bohemian beer, 3-4 per cent. ; Munich beer, 3-8 per cent. ; porter, 5-ro per cent. ; white wine, 5-12 per cent. ; French red wine, 9-14 per cent.; southern wines, 10-17 per cent. ; champagne, 9-20 per cent. A natural wine (as sherry) should not contain more than 17 per cent. of alcohol. If more than this is found, it has been added secondarily. The ordinary cordials contain about 40-50 per cent. alcohol in syrup and volatile oils.
ALCOHOLISM.—Alcoholic beverages have been consumed from time immemorial. Tacitus reports their being used by our forefathers, the old Germanic tribes ; and the immoderation of the Middle Ages, especially in drinking, is well known. At all times man has sought and made use of substances which produced a narcotic effect, and by means of which sorrow and pain could be forgotten for even brief periods. Some peoples have obtained the desired result by means of alcohol, others by the use of other narcotics, notably opium by the Orientals, hashish by the natives of India, Egypt, etc. Some people drink wine, beer, or whisky to give them the sense
of strength and power ; others to give them the feeling of warmth ; and still others claim that without alcohol there can be neither happiness nor socia bility. All the claims seem plausible enough, but as an actual fact it may be stated that the apparently favourable effects of alcoholic indulgence are based on self-deception.
The ingestion of any alcoholic beverage is usually followed by a sensa tion of warmth. The face becomes flushed, speech follows readily, and there is developed a desire for action. Persons who are ordinarily quiet become loquacious, sometimes happy, sometimes quarrelsome. These results are attributed to the stimulating effects of the alcohol, hut in reality the condi tion is quite complex and rarely a true stimulation. The blood-vessels in the skin dilate, because the nerves controlling their movements are partly para lysed. The blood, therefore, rushes to the surface and imparts a sensation of warmth. This spreading of blood on the surface, however, rapidly chills the body ; and, as a matter of fact, the interior of the body becomes colder rather than warmer. For this, as as for other reasons, an intoxicated man is more likely to be than one who is sober. The readiness of speech and flight of ideas also depend on the loss of restraint put on certain mental faculties. The bonds which counsel quiet, moderation, and good sense, are loosened, and the man deep in wine talks on, careless of the con sequences which his ready speech may bring to himself or to others. In this respect there can be no doubt of the correctness of those well-known words " in vino veritas " (in wine there is truth), but the truth is not the expression of a free will, but merely the prattle of an irresponsible agent, an uncon trolled reflex machine. The great quantity of words spoken lowers their worth, and they arc spoken without restraint. Such a person cannot follow a discussion nor put together the impressions received. He indulges in un necessary and numerous gesticulations, often destroys the property of others, and desires to show his power by fighting. It is a mistake to attribute the latter result to any stimulating action of the alcohol ; on the contrary, it is an evidence of loss of power to control. rather than any heightening of present faculties. In other cases, a benumbing of the sense of fatigue occurs, but the person apparently refreshed is later all the more exhausted.