America has a long history of alcoholism. In fact, early settlers here were alcoholics long before we fought for our independence from Great Britain. And though we as a people have taken numerous steps – some more drastic than others – to reduce and prevent the disease of alcoholism, it’s likely that today the overall percentages of alcoholics per any given populace is probably similar to what it was hundreds of years ago. But with our ability to easily communicate today, treatment for alcoholism is more available (and successful) than it ever has been. So while our history of alcoholism hasn’t changed much, what we do about it has.
Alcoholism in colonial America was a significant problem. Local governments struggled to control drunkenness as opposed to controlling alcohol itself. The view at the time was that alcohol was a critical, necessary part of all aspects of daily life. In fact, because of deplorable drinking water conditions during the time, alcoholic beverages were considered far safer and so were consumed more than water alone. Specific laws spelled out by colonialists detailed how much was appropriate to drink, when and where it was appropriate to drink, and the proper ways one was expected to behave while drinking. However, these laws were difficult to enforce. In fact, when a 1672 law prohibited the payment of wages in alcohol, a labor strike ensued because many workers actually preferred this method of payment.(1)
By the time the American Revolution occurred, alcoholism was rampant in the United States. This was due in large part to the fact that many people considered alcohol to be reverent and referred to it as “the water of life.” Alcohol was used for everything from entertainment to anesthesia, courage-elixir to anti-depressant. This continued through the Civil War, but by then Americans were becoming increasingly more addicted to another dangerous substance: morphine. Morphine and alcohol were used so commonly on the battlefields of the North and South that addiction and alcoholism were too commonplace for much concern.
However, by the time 1920 arrived, influential powers moved to eradicate the perceived scourge of alcohol and Passed the Prohibition Act. This act outlawed everything but the consumption of alcohol: its manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, distribution, or transportation was strictly prohibited and violently enforced. During the next 13 years, the American public demonstrated that it would not be without alcohol, and the illegal trade in booze flourished – along with the rise of violent crime. But by 1933 the country had had enough and repealed the prohibition act in December.
Very little has changed since the Prohibition of the 20’s and 30’s: Americans still associate alcohol with nearly every aspect of life: both good and bad. However, the U.S. has cut drunken driving deaths by 50% in the last 2 decades and made alcohol rehabs and alcohol treatment programs more widely available – even to inmates in American prisons. Some treatment centers, such as Recovery First’s Florida Alcohol Rehab, have become incredibly successful in helping people beat the disease of alcoholism with programs like inpatient substance abuse treatment and intensive outpatient treatment. To learn more about the options that are available to you, call the number at the top of your screen right now.
(1) Loyola Marymount University History of Alcohol Use