People have always used substances that altered minds, changed moods, and enlarged perceptions. Americans have found pleasure in a drink, companionship in a smoke, and relief in a pill. Some have used substances without experiencing harmful effects. But drug use has also ruined lives, bred epidemics, and shattered communities.
Altered States: Alcohol and Other Drugs in America traces the history of alcohol and other drugs in the United States. It explores how we swayed between acceptance and rejection, how we indulged ourselves and regulated ourselves, how we count the costs, and how we cope.
The history of drug use in the U.S. can be broken down into five time periods:
Beginnings: 1607 - 1800
Tobacco and rum fueled colonial America. In a cash-poor economy, each served as currency, and each in its own way helped shape American culture.
Tobacco, the source of addictive drug nicotine, is indigenous to the New World. Foreign explorers saw Native Americans smoking tobacco and brought the habit back to Europe. Demand for the addictive weed grew rapidly, spreading throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Seeking a profitable crop for the struggling Jamestown colony in Virginia, colonist John Rolfe planted a mild variety of tobacco in 1611. By 1620, Virginia growers were shipping forty thousand pounds of tobacco to London every year, and men and women of all ranks and ages reached for a pipe of tobacco or a pinch of snuff. Besides being addicted to nocotine, people in the seventeenth century smoked and chewed tobacco because they believed it had medicinal benefits. This view developed from European observations of Native Americans who used tobacco topically to treat rheumatism, wounds, and toothaches, and who smoked it to relieve the common cold. Tobacco became even more plentiful and lucrative to growers in the 1690s, when African slaves took over its arduous cutivation. Throughout most of the eighteenth century, the South's economy depended on the crop.
A cheap and plentiful dietary staple, rum also served as currency. Colonists imported West Indian molasses, distilled into rum, then traded it for other goods. Physicians endorsed the use of distilled spirits, believing that liquors such as rum strenghtened the heart, prolonged life, warded off fever, nourished the body, and cheered the soul. In the seventeenth century, most individuals agreed with Puritan minister Increase Mather, who pronouced drink "a good Creature of God."
Rum was an important trade item for northern colonies. In the early eighteenth century, New England exported 600,000 barrels of rum annually. As the quantity of rum rose, the price of rum fell. As prices fell, social costs rose. complaints about public drunkenness, poverty, and disorder abounded. Reverend Cotton Mather, the son of Increase Mather, complained, the "Flood of RUM overwhelms all good Order amoung us."
The writings of physician Benjamin Rush confirmed distrust of strong liquor. He disputed the traditional belief that distilled spirits prolonged life and prevented illness. He conceded that moderate consumption of beer and wine was nutritious but argued that drunkenness was a disease and continual use of "ardent spirits" destroyed physical and mental health. Rush's words, however, went largely unheeded as whiskey became the American drink of choice in the late 1700s.
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The Alcoholic Republic: 1800 - 1860
Americans steadily drank more and more whiskey during the early 1800s as supply increased and price tumbled. The annual per capita consumption of distilled spirits in 1830 was five gallons-nearly five times the amount people consume today. Like rum, whiskey was legal tender. People bartered with whiskey, paid their ministers' salaries with whiskey. It was also a dietary staple because the supply of other beverages was unreliable and water sometimes carried disease.
Liquor and socializing were closely entwined. Taverns and inns served as important community centers. They sheltered and fed travelers and often served as the local trading post, post office, auction house, courtroom, polling place, recruiting and militia office, stage coach depot, and liquor retailer. As community gathering spots, they encouraged patrons to drink and smoke- often and in great quantities.
As whiskey consumption accelerated, drunkenness increased so markedly that ir caused widespread community complaint and commentary. Family violence also became a more visible fact of life. Accounts of inebriate mothers neglecting their children spread, but these stories were outnumbered by incidents of wife and child beating.
These social ills coupled with rising incidents of alcohol-related illnesses alarmed many Americans, giviing rise to a temperance- moderate use of alcohol-and for complete abstinence swept across the United States with a wave of religious revivals. Secular societies also organized, including the Washingtonians, a support group similar to today's Alcoholics Anonymous. As a result of the temperance movement, drinking rates sharply dropped from five gallons per capita in 1830 to less than two gallons in 1840.
Most emperance advocates relied on moral suasion to convince americans to stop drinking. Others sought legal action to restrict the availability of alcohol. In 1851, Maine enacted the first statewide law prohibiting nonmedical alcohol abuse subsided as the somber qustion of slavery gripped the nation.
Advances in the drug trade and organic chemistry made greater quntities and varieties of drugs avalable. Called "God's own medicine," opium served as a common pain relever and panacea for ills ranging from consumption to colic.
Opium imports steadily increased demand from Americans and the increased supply from British-ruled India. Chemists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, between 1800-1810 and by the 1830s, American druggists produced morphine salts. Morphine, a more potent and dreliable pain relever, gradully came into greater use in the 1840s and 1850s. chemists also developed other pain-numbing drugs, such as chloroform, nitrous oxide, and ether.
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Drugs, Drink, and Miracle Cures: 1860 - 1900
Between 1860 and 1900, physicians, chemists and druggists continued to develop substances and treatments to alleviate suffering. chloral hydrate, knowm as "knock-out drops," dulled pain and induced sleep. Believed by many to be the miracle drug of the 1880s, cocaine initially appeared to be a promising treatment for depression, fatigue, consumption, and alcohol and opium addiction. Opium imports soared as many patent medicine manufacturers added liberal doses of the drug to their preparations and elixers. Because manufacturers were not yet required to label products' ingredients, many people unknowingly developed dependencies on these tonics and elixers. Americans knew only that they felt well if they took their medicine, and they felt unwell without it. Others smoked hashish or visited opium dens, using drugs solely for their pleasurable effects. In the 1870s and 1880s, the press shocked the public with exposes on the widespread use of oopiates and other drugs for both medical and recreational use.
Although drinking never again reached 1830s levels, it increased during the Civil war. As saloons mutiplied in the 1860s, the temerance movement resumed. Reformers believed that restricting alcohol sales would reduce violence, crime, and disease. Women in "praying bands" surrounded saloons and drugstores, where they prayed and sang hymns until owners agreed not to sell alcohol.
Drying up the source of liquor was one thing. Curtailing the drunkard's craving for alcohol was another. While the mechannics of addiction were not yet understood, many people reconized that alcohol and other drugs had cast their users into physical and moral slavery. Emancipation, they hoped, lay in medical treatment. doctors struggling to find treatments for addiction pioneered a new branch of medical practice. In the late 1800s, a growing number of institutions were founded to treatment alcoholics and drug addicts. Mail order cures, often containing drugs themselves, offered a cheaper and more accessible treatment.
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Regulation and Reaction: 1900 - 1960
In the late nineteenthe and early twentieth centuries, many reformers crusaded for drug regulation as part of a broader cultural movement to create a modern, progressive society. The ever-spiraling complexity of large corporations and modern industrial life convinced many americans that they needed federal laws to safeguard the public good. Ironcially, the very legislation that regulated one drug often caused some Americans to turn to another.
Reformer Samuel Hopkins Adams, guided by Dr. Harvey Wiley of the Department of Agriculture, exposed patent medicine frauds. Both men lobbied hard for the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. This forced manufacturers to list product ingredients on labels. Firms could no longer market "secret formulas" containing opiates and cocaine that could addict unsuspecting consumers.
Congress tried to regulate the medicinal use and eliminat the recreational use of cocaine and opiates through the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1915. this required all people handling and selling drugs to pay a small tax and record transactions.
The Eighteenth Amendment-Prohibition-forbade alcohol production and sales effective in January 1920. The Prohibition Bureau soon found that the law was impossible to enforce. Underworld gangs realized enormous profit supplying illicit liquor to a thirsty public. This money helped finance crime syndicates that expanded into drugs, prostitution, gambling, and extortion. Prohibition led some to try marijuana because it was legal and cheaper than alcohol.
Almost as soon as Prohibition began,a new group of "crusaders" fought to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, claiming that it violated civil liberties, drained taxpayers' purses, and generated crime. As Americans entered the Great Depression, a legalized liquor industry promised tempting revenues and new jobs, and 1932, Congress repealed the Prohibition Amendment. By the 1950s, the cocktail hour had become a respectable social ritual. People even bought special accessories and furniture just for serving cocktails, and many suburban homes were equipped with a small bar.
As alcohol use rose in suburbia in the 1950s, the press reported a heroin epidemic in major cities, and Aldous Huxley celebrated the use of the hallucinogen mescaline, influnecing many drugs users in the 1960s.
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The Drug Culture: 1960 - 1990s
The pendulum that had swung towards rigid conversation and condemnation for drugs during the 1950s swept back towards hip liberalism and acceptance of drugs in the 1960s. With the gradual relaxation in attitudes towards drug use came a proliferation of psychoative substances on the streets.
Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary became famous as an apostle for LSD in the early 1960s. "Acids" users who followed him wryly appropriated the advertising slogan "better living through chemistry." they argued that LSD experiences opened up compelling inner vistas that, once viewed, would end social ills as varied as war, violence, and alcoholism. American also experimented with LSD-like drugs such as STP (Dimethoxymethyamphetamine)and PCP (phencyclidine), adn plant hallucinogens, including mescaline, peyote, and psilocybin. But the drug of preference for many Americans in the late 1960s and the presents is marijuana. Troops stationed in Vietnam used marijuana so frequently to relieve the pressures of the war that in 1968 the United States military launched an antimarijuana campaign, an effort that turned some soldiers to heroin, which was easy to get and often cheap.
Conditions in the asphalt jungles of America's inner cities were stressful, too. Oversome by a sense of futility, some people tried to cope with poverty, unemployment, crime, and discrimination by using heroin. By 1970, approximately 500,000 Americans used heroin-about 250,000 of them lived in New York City.
During the 1960s, American young people began conducting their own drug experiments with ordinary household products, such as glue and solvents, leading to serious side effects and death for some. Amphtamines, called "speed," became popular, as did another stimulant, cocaine. In the 1970s, cocaine was popular in the affluent circles of rock stars and other celebrities. In the mid-1980s, cheap crack, called "the poor man's cocaine," hit the streets. When smoked, the highly addictive drug reaches the brain in about eight seconds, causing an intense but short-lived high. Although illicit drugs always receive the most attentiion, the use and misuse of prescription drugs such as barbiturates and tranquilizers escalated after 1960.
This rise in drug abuse left the medical community struggling to understand and treat chemical dependency. During the late 1960s, "TCs," residential therapeutic comunities, emerged to treat dependency problems. Often directed by former drug addicts, TCs offered care and rehabilitation. Doctors Vicent Dole and Marie Nyswander pioneered radical changes in treatment for heroin addicts, using methadone maintenance. Methadone, often provided at free clinics, blocked heroin's euphoria and offered addicts a chance for stable, crime-free lives.
The feeral government also struggled with the problem of drug dependency. In 1971, Presidents richard Nixon declared an official "war on drugs." He authorized creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, which in turn fostered many treatment and research programs. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan began a new war on drugs, allocating nearly $4 billion for drug control. Mrs. Reagan helped inaugurate a new temperance movement when she called upon citizens to "just say no" to drugs. Many businesses also introduced drug testing at this time. By 1992, 80% of Fortune 500 companies used these tests. The struggle, however, was not yet over. In 1989, President George Bush declared yet another war on drugs, "the gravest domestic threat," in his televised speech as president. By 1992, the federal government's spending on drug control approximated $12 billion.
Alcohol and drugs continue to trouble American society. As ewe swing into a temperance era, we must as: What are the human, financial, and social costs?
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