Breaking Down the Numbers of Americans’ Drinking Habits

A century after Prohibition, we uncork a history of the nation’s shifting relationship with booze

end of prohibition
New Yorkers celebrate the end of Prohibition in 1933. Imagno / Getty Images

Mark Twain wrote a column in July of 1867 bemoaning the “compulsory temperance” movement then gaining ground in Massachusetts: “Prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does not cure it or even diminish it.” The federal government would test that proposition starting 100 years ago in January. Perhaps surprisingly, historians still debate whether the 18th Amendment really improved public health. Some note that drinking fell during the nearly 14 years of Prohibition; others say it just gave folks a thirst for hard liquor, which was readily bootlegged. In any case, alcohol consumption is higher today than it was in 1919.

advertising data
Graphic by Eritrea Dorcely; Information from Gary B. Wilcox, et al., Int’l Journal of Advertising
Pick your poison: The percentage of men and women who say liquor, beer or wine is their preferred alcoholic beverage.
Graphic by Eritrea Dorcely; Information from Gallup
Buy booze in Delaware before moving to Nevada? The Silver State's declining rate of consumption is likely tied to the tripling of population, 1980-2018. The First State’s low taxes have correlated with rising sales.
Graphic by Eritrea Dorcely; Information from National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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This article is a selection from the January/February 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine

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