The History Of Alcohol Prohibition In America

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Alcohol is one of the most prevalent and rooted features of American life and has played an important role in the United States and other countries' history. As early as the production of Rum, during the colonial period, alcohol has been favored and highly profitable. During the colonial period alcohol was part of a triangle trade, with slaves, between New England, the West Coast of Africa, and the West Indies.This triangle trade would have lasting effects as many individuals during the colonial period, 17th, 18th, and 19th century, began to consume large quantities of alcohol at home, while traveling, during work, and during many social events. However, these enticing alcoholic beverages soon became a problem as many individuals reported that they were addicted. These reports of addiction led to the temperance movement and eventually the prohibition.

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The Temperance Movement was an organized effort to change the public’s attitude about drinking alcohol by promoting moderation and complete abstinence. However, over the course of the 19th century, there was a shift from promoting moderation and complete abstinence to demanding the total prohibition of alcohol. In the United States, many attempts to restrict or abolish alcohol failed, however, from 1907 to 1919, 34 states managed to pass prohibition laws; Which caused the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to be ratified prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. Shortly after the 18th amendment was ratified, congress passed the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act, “provided for the enforcement of prohibition.” ( The 18th amendment and the Volstead Act ended after the 21st amendment was ratified in 1933 and both created great change. However, before the end of the Prohibition, the government controlled so much that organized crime began to flourish in the United States: With the rise of the Mafia, corruption of law enforcement, illegal outlets for purchasing liquor, and speakeasies. Throughout this period in time, patent medicine also became popular. Patent medicines were often prescribed by doctors and druggists to treat and prevent illness and disease such as tuberculosis. “The ingredients in these uncontrolled ‘medicines’ were secret, often consisting of large amounts of colored water, alcohol, cocaine, or opiates.” (pg. 673). By 1928, patent medicines had thrived, and doctors had made “an estimated $40 million per year writing prescriptions for whiskey.” (pg. 252). Many believe that patent medicines were used to push substances on the uneducated and I agree. I believe that the money doctors and druggists were receiving for patent medicines mattered more than the lives of those they were supposed to be caring for.

Our nation's history with alcohol has shaped how we use and see alcohol today. When you look at our nation’s past you’ll see why there are currently laws set in place for alcohol. I believe these laws are now set in place for the prevention and the promotion of education on alcohol addiction. Although I do not fully agree with the temperance movement or the Prohibition, I believe that without those periods in time education about addiction wouldn’t have been promoted and our nation would have fallen down a darker path of addiction.

Works Cited

  1. Drugs and Society. 13th ed., Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2017.
  2. Editors. “18th and 21st Amendments.” HISTORY, 6 Jan. 2020,
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