Alcoholism and Mental Illness

This week we decided to look at the links in this case between alcoholism and mental illness. We know from the dossier materials that alcohol was definitely involved the night of Ada Brown’s murder, because all the main characters were drinking. We also know from the dossier materials that Harrison had four wives die in Hartford, and that in 1881 he was ordered to visit a hospital of some sort. From these pieces of evidence we have researched what effects alcohol may have on this case, and how mental order may have also played a role with Harrison’s actions in the case. We have completed further research on alcoholism and more specific research on what mental health treatment looked like in Hartford around the time of the event of Ada Brown’s death.


“The connection between family background and alcoholism is strong” (Elmansain 7900). We have found in one of the articles from the US national library of medicine, specifically from the article titled Event-Related Brain Potentials are Different in Individuals at High and Low Risk for Developing Alcoholism, that genetics play a huge role in whether or not someone may become an alcoholic. “Individuals with alcoholic relatives are at least 4 times more likely to develop alcoholism than are adults in the general population” (Elmansain 7900). Even children who end up being separated from their alcoholic biological parents are still three times more likely to become alcoholics (Elmansain 7900).


“There is evidence that suggests brain function might be involved in the genetic     predisposition toward alcoholism. In humans, several studies have found a higher        incidence of hyperactivity in the children of alcoholics (see ref. 9 for review), and                            an excess of high-frequency activity has been reported in the electroencephalogram        (EEG) of the 12-year-old sons of alcoholic fathers (10). Thus, it is conceivable that                     the genetic influence on the development of alcoholism might be reflected in       neurophysiology- logical functions in humans (Elmansain 7900). “


In an article by Peter Finn, a psychologist, on the psychological responses to alcohol, the evidence above shows that children are more likely to feel anxiety and stress (Finn 227). As they become teenagers and adults, when the they feel stress in any situation, they are more likely to follow in the footsteps in their parents and drink. They are unknowingly making the situation worse because alcohol heightens the stress stimuli (Finn 227). The logical function in their brain can seem blurry and can make them want to consume a larger quantity of alcohol  so that they no longer feel the stress (Finn 227).


This evidence shows that people were drinking near Ada Brown the night she died. We know Harrison, the Arlington woman, Gregory, and Ada, did get drunk as seen in the Dossier Materials of Article 2. Since they were all in the room the night Ada died, it is easy to assume that this is not the first time Ada, Gregory, and Harrison have gotten drunk together. Harrison especially seemed to be affected by the alcohol, as he argued violently with Ada about the ten dollars and then killed her later that night.


We have tried to research whether or not Harrison, Gregory, and Ada had alcohol problems, but we could not find any specific evidence stating that they did. We were also trying to prove that Harrison was an alcoholic and probably killed Ada in a drunken rage, but again we couldn’t find any specific evidence. All that we can conclude is that alcohol was indeed involved that night during the murder of Ada Brown, and from the dossier we know that Ada, the Arlington woman, and Gregory were all drinking that night. One might conclude from this that the alcohol could definitely have elevated the situation and, perhaps if the alcohol was not involved, it may not have led to a death. Clearly, in this situation it seems that alcohol was a contributing factor.


Another theory that we have been working on is the idea that Harrison possibly had some sort of mental illness, and it might have been fueled further by the alcohol. In the dossier sources there is information about Harrison having been ordered to go to a hospital. “In 1881 Harrison himself was receiving aid from the town, and was given as an order to go to the hospital, but he failed to report to that institution” (dossier article 6, section 1). This leads us to believe that it may have been a mental hospital that he was ordered to go to. If Harrison had a mental illness of some sort, this may have been the reason he killed Ada. We are also curious to see if this ties into the fact that his four wives all died in Hartford in relatively quick succession. Moving forward we need to try to find the order that told Harrison to go to the hospital, and probably look more into the deaths of his past four wives. Next week we hope to get to the state library to dig up more in the archives, to attempt to find the order given to Harrison and what institution that he was ordered to go visit.

The information that we found important to research this week, adding on to research from last time, are specifics about the world of mental health in Hartford around the time this story takes place. We have concluded from our research that mental hospitals, after they created a public mental hospital that the poor could be sent to in Middletown, Connecticut in the year 1868 (Goodheart), was not a great place to be sent to. If Harrison truly was to be sent to a mental hospital, then he may have had a good reason to refuse to go. The three decades following the opening of the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown would produce many problems for the poor people who were considered mentally insane, as there were many problems with public policy and psychiatric practice (Goodheart). The Connecticut Hospital for the poor was often overcrowded, and the patients there were not treated as well as the people who could afford the private retreat center. The hospital housed the poor, “as the dormitories filled, slept in halls and attics” (Goodheart). Another reason Harrison may not have wanted to go to the institution was probably the immense amount of overcrowding and also, “as the curative luster of the public institution dulled, somber discussion of prevention, a premonition of eugenics, ensued” (Goodheart).


The extent from what we have read this week about the specifics of preventing the mental insane to keep occuring in future generations has to to do controlling thoughts. In Connecticut, the concepts of both self-control and avoiding sin were often very common occurrences in the late nineteenth century. Ministers in Hartford were also involved in these ideas. “Hartford’s nationally renowned minister, the Congregationalist Horace Bushnell, preached in 1881, ‘Every Human creature is in the way to insanity who allows himself to be possessed by any kind of impulsion, outside of his own responsible self-keeping’” (Goodheart). People also attributed insanity to character flaws that they did not want passed down in future generations. In Connecticut, right around the 1880s, we think it is important to note that the prevention of insanity was growing as an idea. This may also have scared someone like Harrison away from wanting to go to the hospital or even stopped him from admitting that he might need to go, as it seems this would also be admitting that he has character flaws and has let himself go insane. This might not have been something he could have accepted about himself. He may have been in denial about his issues, and probably failed to see them as a problem.


Works Cited


Elmasian R, Neville H, Woods D, Bloom F, Schuckit M. Event-Related Brain Potentials are Different in Individuals at High and Low Risk for Developing Alcoholism. 1982 Dec 15 [accessed 2016 Oct 16].


Finn PR, Justus A. PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES IN SONS OF ALCOHOLICS. 1997 Nov 3 [accessed 2016 Oct 16].


Goodheart, Lawrence B. Mad Yankees: The Hartford Retreat for the Insane and Nineteenth-century Psychiatry. Amherst: U of Massachusetts, 2003. Print.



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