When Doctors Prescribed Alcohol

With artisanal cocktails and mile-long wine menus at just about every restaurant and bar from coast to coast, it's hard to imagine an alcohol-free era in America, but for 13 years the National Prohibition Act put the kibosh on recreational drinking and banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of "intoxicating liquors" in the United States. While bootleggers and speakeasy operators found ways to sell liquor despite the law, one unlikely group legally provided easy access to alcohol: doctors. Prior to Prohibition, the American Medical Association widely recognized that alcohol is not medicine. However, during Prohibition the AMA changed its opinion, in part because patients still wanted to drink. Doctors were given prescription forms to prescribe “medicinal whiskey” at pharmacies. This was widely abused, as the forms were often copied, and much more whiskey was released from bond than the federal government ever intended. Because some pharmacists sold bogus prescription forms, many people never went to a doctor, choosing to go to the pharmacist, who could provide a prescription form and deliver the ‘prescription. Eventually, alcohol fell out of favor with doctors and the AMA voted to support the prohibition of alcohol across the country.