A social history of alcoholism in the United States, from the seventeenth century to the present day
Today, millions of Americans are struggling with alcoholism, but millions are also in long-term recovery from addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous and a growing number of recovery organizations are providing support for alcoholics who will face the danger of relapse for the rest of their lives. We have finally come to understand that alcoholism is a treatable illness. But in the beginning, our nation condemned drunks for moral weakness. President John Adams renounced his alcoholic son, Charles, and refused to bury him in the family crypt.
Christopher Finan reveals the history of our struggle with alcoholism and the emergence of a search for sobriety that began among Native Americans in the colonial period. He introduces us to the first of a colorful cast of characters, a remarkable Iroquois leader named Handsome Lake, a drunk who stopped drinking and dedicated his life to helping his people achieve sobriety. In the early nineteenth century, the idealistic and energetic “Washingtonians,” a group of reformed alcoholics, led the first national movement to save men like themselves. After the Civil War, doctors began to recognize that chronic drunkenness is an illness, and Dr. Leslie Keeley invented a “gold cure” that was dispensed at more than a hundred clinics around the country. But most Americans rejected a scientific explanation of alcoholism. A century after the ignominious death of Charles Adams came Carrie Nation. The wife of a drunk, she destroyed bars with a hatchet in her fury over what alcohol had done to her family. Prohibition became the law of the land, but nothing could stop the drinking.
Finan also tells the dramatic story of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who helped each other stay sober and then created AA, which survived its tumultuous early years and finally proved that alcoholics could stay sober for a lifetime. This is narrative history at its best: entertaining and authoritative, an important portrait of one of America’s great liberation movements.