The history of drinking alcohol in America begins with the early days of our country; the Puritans packed more beer than water for their journey on the Mayflower to the New World. These early colonists believed alcohol was a gift to society, and “they drank from the crack of dawn to the crack of dawn,” according to historian Dr. R.J. Rorabaugh. Thus, alcohol became deeply woven into the cultural fabric of America.
The 16th and 17th centuries alcohol abuse and alcoholism
As pervasive as alcohol was at this time, societal norms, reinforced by religious teachings, helped preserve the notion that alcohol abuse was unacceptable. According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, “drunkenness was a sin and an indication of moral weakness.” America’s first attempt at prohibition occurred in 1630, when Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts tried to outlaw alcoholic beverages in Boston. However, it wasn’t until the late 18th century that this movement began to take shape.
The early temperance movement to stop alcohol abuse in America
A public push to limit alcohol consumption began in 1789 with the founding of the first American temperance society in Connecticut. Additional temperance societies formed soon after in response to the growing popularity of rum, whiskey, and other distilled spirits. The groups based their beliefs about alcohol moderation and abstinence on the ideas of Dr. Benjamin Rush. Dr. Rush was one of the first Americans to propose that alcohol addiction is a disease that can only be treated by abstaining completely.
The 19th-century alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse
Despite public attempts to limit alcohol consumption, drunkenness was pervasive in the 18th century, and the trend continued into the 19th century. In 1830, Americans consumed an average of 7.1 gallons of alcohol a year. It was at this time that drinking became a moral issue. Alcohol was having a serious impact on communities, and many problems associated with industrialization were attributed to alcohol abuse. Soon, any consumption of alcohol was perceived as deplorable. By the 1880s, public schools in New York and Pennsylvania were legally required to teach students about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
The 20th century and prohibition to stop alcohol issues in America
In the early 1900s, the public opinion on alcohol consumption continued in a negative trajectory. In 1910, New York became the first state to pass a law against driving while intoxicated. 10 years later, the government banned alcohol manufacturing, sales, and consumption in the United States and the era of national Prohibition officially began. The consumption of alcohol initially decreased, but “bootlegging” soon caught on. Illegal alcohol was produced and then sold at underground establishments called speakeasies. The laws of Prohibition were difficult to enforce, and the nationwide effort to ban alcohol ultimately failed. In 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed and Prohibition came to an end.
By 1944, the U.S. Public Health Service declared alcoholism one of the most serious threats to public safety in America. Laws were established throughout the country to prevent drunk driving and reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) was founded in 1983 to teach children not to use alcohol or drugs, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) was formed in 1989 to stop underage drinking.
Today, alcohol remains the most commonly used addictive substance in America, and 17.6 million people suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.
Do you have a history of alcohol abuse? There’s still time to build a healthy future in San Diego
Ever since the first colonies were established, Americans have struggled to find a balance between healthy alcohol consumption and addiction. Today, alcohol abuse remains a serious problem in the United States and is one of the top lifestyle-related causes of death. If you struggle with a history of alcohol abuse and are fighting to build a healthy future, help is available. Speak with your doctor or an addiction specialist who can direct you towards resources that will help you take control of your health.