Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000

Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000

Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000

Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000

Synopsis

Explores the changing perception and use of drugs in American Culture Virtually every American alive has at some point consumed at least one, and very likely more, consciousness altering drug. Even those who actively eschew alcohol, tobacco, and coffee cannot easily avoid the full range of psychoactive substances pervading the culture. With many children now taking Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, professional athletes relying on androstenidione to bulk up, and the chronically depressed resorting to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac, the early twenty-first century appears no less rife with drugs than previous periods. Yet, if the use of drugs is a constant in American history, the way they have been perceived has varied extensively. Just as the corrupting cigarettes of the early twentieth century ("coffin nails" to contemporaries) became the glamorous accessory of Hollywood stars and American GIs in the 1940s, only to fall into public disfavor later as anunhealthy and irresponsible habit, the social significance of every drug changes over time. The essays in this volume explore these changes, showing how the identity of any psychoactive substance--from alcohol and nicotine to cocaine and heroin--owes as much to its users, their patterns of use, and the cultural context in which the drug is taken, as it owes to the drug's documented physiological effects. Rather than seeing licit drugs and illicit drugs, recreational drugs and medicinal drugs, "hard" drugs and "soft" drugs as mutually exclusive categories, the book challenges readers to consider the ways in which drugs have shifted historically from one category to another. In addition to theeditors, contributors include Jim Baumohl, Allan M. Brandt, Katherine Chavigny, Timothy Hickman, Peter Mancall, Michelle McClellan, Steven J. Novak, Ron Roizen, Lori Rotskoff, Susan L. Speaker, Nicholas Weiss, and William White

Excerpt

Virtually every American alive has at some point consumed at least one, and very likely more than one, consciousness-altering drug. Even those who actively eschew alcohol, tobacco, and coffee are rarely able to avoid drinking from public water supplies. Since the 1980s, even these resources have been laced with a “cocktail of unmetabolized pills and potions” —the residues of birth control pills, antidepressants, beta-blockers, steroids, and a host of other psychoactive pharmaceuticals consumed daily by the millions. With many children now taking Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; professional athletes relying on androstenidione to bulk up; the walking wounded and chronically depressed resorting to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac; Ginko biloba refreshing flagging powers of memory; and a trip to Starbucks replacing the threemartini lunch, the early twenty-first century appears rife with psychotropic drugs. Yet, psychoactive substances have always been an integral part of American life. As recent scholarship has made plain, psychoactive substances such as nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and heroin are model commodities, traded freely (or not so freely) for profit. Indeed, in the case of those with strongly addictive properties, demand is built right into the product.

If the use of psychoactive drugs is a constant in American history, the ways drugs and their users are perceived have varied extensively. And these variations in the perception of drug use—from tobacco to cocaine—tell us much about the changing nature of American society. Who would believe, for example, that the corrupting cigarettes (“coffin nails” to their contemporaries) of the 1900s would become the glamorous and heroic habit of Hollywood stars and American soldiers in the 1940s, only to fall on hard times at the end of the twentieth century as an irresponsible, cancer-causing addictive habit? Likewise, the transformation of cocaine's public identity from panacea-like pick-me-up of the late nineteenth century to symbol of Yuppie decadence in the 1980s, to source of urban social decay (especially . . .

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