Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Too much claret

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 21 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:451
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

As is well known, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an opium addict. He took opium in the form of laudanum, that is to say tincture of opium in alcohol, which he drank by the pint. In addition, he was no mean bibber of claret; not a 21-unit-a-week man (or whatever the latest safe level of consumption is), but more like an all-you-can-drink man.

Several witnesses testified to his morning shakes and sweats, which improved after his first laudanum of the day, and in general this has been taken as evidence of his addiction to opium. However, it seems to me more likely that he was suffering from the withdrawal effects of alcohol. The trouble for literary types is that alcohol …

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