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Alcohol: The Seamy Side (Fortune, 1933)

June 24, 2012, 5:30 PM UTC

So much has been said about the evils of Prohibition that the evils of Drink have almost been forgotten. That Drink has ruined many

a man, and brought destruction to many a child, and that it will continue to do so, none can deny. The painting opposite is a reminder from a dark past.

So much for the social evils of Drink. One is more conscious today of the social evils of Prohibition as summed up in the picture below. But there is still a third evil to be considered. What of the effects of alcohol on the average human body?

Medical opinion unites on two propositions: (1) alcohol in moderate quantities is certainly not harmful and is possibly beneficial; (2) alcohol in excess is undoubtedly harmful. From the toper’s point of view, a doctor’s idea of moderate quantity is very moderate indeed. A cocktail glass of liquor a day is the amount usually specified.

Alcohol is definitely a food and ranks with fats and carbohydrates as a source of energy. But more than an extremely moderate amount will definitely weaken the liver, kidneys, brain, and other organs. And disease follows.

Winternitz, the brilliant head of Yale’s Medical School, puts the case clearly: “When used to excess, alcohol may play a role similar to that of fatigue, cold, and exposure in destroying resistance to specific agents of disease, but there are no facts to prove that alcohol is in itself a specific agent. Alcohol provides relaxation and nourishment and for this reason it may be necessary in a civilization which taxes the nervous system so heavily.”

Return to Whiskey and America: A post-prohibition reunion (Fortune, 1933)