Alcoholism and Degeneracy

~ by Valentin Magnan, A. Fillassier ~

Published in Problems in Eugenics, 1912

A very useful overview of Magnan’s work, published right at the end of his career, just 4 years before hs death in 1916.

Magnan writes on absinthism:

“…Is the patient given to absinthe? Then the symptomatology is different. In Absinthism the hallucination insanity is more active, more terrifying, sometimes provoking most dangerous reactions of extreme violence. It is accompanied by another syndrome of great gravity; all at once the absinth-drinker shouts out, grows pale, loses consciousness, and falls; the features contract, the jaws are clenched, the pupils dilate, the eyes turn upwards, the limbs stiffen, urine is passed, gas and faeces are smartly expelled. At the end of some seconds the face is contorted, the limbs shake, the eyes are turned convulsively in all directions, the jaws are snapped, the tongue protruded between the teeth and severely bitten; a bloody saliva covers the lips; the face becomes injected, blue and puffy; the eyes become prominent and fill with tears, the breathing is stertorous ; then the movements cease, the body becomes all relaxed, the sphincters loose their hold. A moment later the man raises his head, and looks about him with a dull stare. Coming to himself a little later, he has no recollection at all of what has happened; it is exactly like an attack of epilepsy.

At other times the manifestation is less acute; the individual pales, some little twitches show at the corner of his lips, and for a moment he is completely ignorant of all that goes on around him; he has a vertigo. If these accidents recur, there may supervene an attack of delirium of great intensity, during which – contrary to what happens with the simple alcoholic, where a little lively interference serves to stop the delirium for a moment – the patient is heedless of all interference, and gives himself over almost automatically to acts of the most violent character. Sometimes also another symptomatic difference distinguishes the drinker of absinthe from the ordinary alcoholic, and that is the unheralded appearance of delirium; so much so that the individual has a sudden attack of delirium with hallucinations of great intensity without a single preceding tremor, or without his motor powers being markedly impaired. To sum up: to the credit of absinthe we must add the following symptoms; sudden delirium, epileptic attacks, vertigo, hallucinatory delirium more active and more impulsive than with alcohol, and sometimes very dangerous because unconscious.”


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