everybody. How’s it going? In case you didn’t get your fill of drug-based scholastics
in last post, I have curated another one for you.
Jean Acker’s “How crack found a niche in the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology
of drug-related harm” vs. David Herzberg’s “Happy Pills in America : From
Miltown to Prozac”.
In what is
likely unsurprising to you, both of these readings discuss aspects of drug
culture. Both focus on the United States. I will summarize each, then put them
in conversation with one another.
How crack found a niche in the American ghetto
aims to fill the gap that exists when only science is used to examine
-It does so
by focusing on social factors that determine who it is that is becoming addicted.
argument of the piece’s purpose is that social factors are powerful, so powerful
that it is irresponsible to ignore them when examining addiction.
on crack epidemics in urban neighborhoods in the 1980’s, looking at causes of
-It opens with
a dramatic “Paxil” advertisement that promises its users a restored sense of
ads like these are rooted in post-WWII medicine in America.
that the 1990’s ushered in a trend of skepticism of pharmaceutical messages.
the role of consumerism.
the defining of the “war on drugs” as often excluding prescription drugs.
back the powerful idea that the history we know is missing many pieces of
Examples of the Many Common Threads
many common threads throughout the two works, but I selected two that I found
to be the most dominant.
works are different in many wats, there are certainly some areas of overlap.
These areas show us themes of distinct importance within the dialogue of drug
I will be using
“HCFNAG” as an easy, catchy, and brief acronym for “How crack found a niche in
the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology of drug-related harm”. I will
be using “Happy Pills” as the abbreviation for its full title.
drug intake as a solution/coping mechanism
-HCFNAG: Coping with isolation/poverty
through crack usage
-Acker discusses the
long history of the Hill District, explaining that the years of struggle created
a vulnerable environment in the face of drug epidemic. She writes, “Tracing
these changes in the neighborhood captures some of the experience of its
residents and sets the stage for the arrival of crack,” (Acker 79).
-Happy Pills: Taking “Paxil” as a
-The 2001 ad for the
medication promised that one would “see someone you haven’t seen in a while…
Yourself” (Hertzberg 1). This pharmaceutical ad, posing as scientifically
based, issued promises to consumers that are unrealistic.
of incomplete understanding shaping views of drug users
-HCFNAG: idea of the “crack baby”
and incorrectly, informed Americans that babies whose mothers had smoked crack
were prone to more devastating birth defects than babies whose mothers had consumed
cocaine (Acker 84). This shocked the public and “Images of black ‘crack babies’
excited alarmed pity” (Acker 83). The sense of “otherness” already surrounding
communities with crack problems were then magnified.
-Happy Pills: Framing drug’s abilities
as more capable than in actuality
in this century have had aspects of an “accent of consumer culture, implying a
lifestyle choice as well as a medical therapy” (Acker 2). This advertising tactic
markets a near-truth, rather than a truth, that ultimately misinforms and
at these two works, we are able to better understand drug history in the United
States as a whole. It is integral to interrogate concepts like the ways in
which notions of drug intake manifests as a solution/coping mechanism and
societal components of incomplete understanding shaping views of drug users.
understand the ways in which addiction manifests now, we must lean the ways in
which it has occurred and been influenced in the past. Both Caroline Jean Acker’s
“How crack found a niche in the American ghetto: The historical epidemiology of
drug-related harm” and David Herzberg’s “Happy Pills in America : From Miltown
to Prozac” provide us with useful insight.
Acker, Caroline Jean. “How Crack Found a Niche
in the American Ghetto: The Historical Epidemiology of Drug-Related Harm.” BioSocieties,
vol. 5, no. 1, 2010, pp. 70–88., doi:10.1057/biosoc.2009.1.
Herzberg, David. Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to
Prozac, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,
It is not a new development that women’s actions are often
treated differently than the actions of men. One of countless examples is the
treatment of women who consume alcohol. How does mainstream American society
treat the consumption of alcohol by women differently than men? By looking at portrayals of female alcohol
abuse in the United States from 1900 to the present in relation to alcohol
abuse by males in the same timeframe and location, while paralleling evolving
scientific perception of alcohol abuse, this paper will give insight into the
way that gendered double standards tie into portrayals of alcohol abuse.
Specifications of Research
Alcohol abuse is defined as the use of alcohol
resulting in notable negative consequences, with both psychological and
physical components. This research will focus on the physical components. In
coping with the specific set data that is accessible, the research presented in
this paper will look specifically at a set of isolated gender, race,
nationality, timeframe, and substance variables. These research specifications
will create a more precise study and conclusion than if more axes were left
uncontrolled. The research question, then, is as follows: in what ways were
portrayals of Caucasian women’s alcohol abuse in the United States from 1900 to
the present different from portrayals of the alcohol abuse of their male
The selection of Caucasian women is a result of maximizing
the usefulness of available data sets, being that most of the relevant data has
discussed Caucasian women as the result of racial privilege. The selection of
the substance of alcohol is a result of its long history of legalization. The
selection of the timeframe used to contain my research was to contain the
research on the axis of time while including a large enough amount of time to
have a wealth of important data. The way that women who abuse alcohol are
viewed during any given timeframe is indicative of larger gender norms during
that time period. By looking at a time period of over one hundred years can
create a substantive observation about social portrayal patterns surrounding
the demographic in discussion during that time. Still, the variables of social
class and age have been left to be independent variables to explore.
innumerable instances of portrayals of alcohol abuse in this century. Still, in
examining exemplary instances of the differences in portrayal of alcohol abuse,
we are able to extrapolate a broader understanding of the culture that produced
those instances at that time. One prominent cultural comparison to draw within
the United States is that between Caucasian, mainstream early 2010’s pop icons
Ke$ha and Mac Miller. The late Mac Miller’s stoner persona discusses alcohol
abuse in his 2011 hit “Up All Night”. He sings “So I’mma get drunk, won’t be
leavin’ til three / Yea, I got a reputation of gettin’ wasted”, then further
addressing his big spending habits, objectification of his female bartender,
and becoming physically ill out of drunkenness (Miller). Ke$ha’s famed 2009
song “TiK ToK” includes the lines “Before
I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack / ‘Cause when I leave for the
night, I ain’t coming back “, then states that she will be partying and
drinking while out (Ke$ha).
Miller was portrayed as a laid-back man, from his apparel to
his song’s musical quality; see image 1 in appendix. Ke$ha, on the other hand,
was depicted as highly erratic. Her apparel was unusual, and both the apparel
and her demeanor were shown to be that of a “party girl” trope; see image 2.
While the contexts of both star’s personas were different, this example is
still powerful. We see a man drinking as hypermasculine in his sexualization of
the bartender yet depicted as relaxed through his overall persona. When Kesha
drinks in “TiK ToK”, she pursues men, gets a pedicure, tries on clothes and
does other hyperfeminine actions. She, however, has been depicted as “wild”,
while Miller has been merely “chill”.
This perception of Miller becomes even more evident as we
see pitchfork.com’s 2011 review of the album that includes “Up All Night”,
“Blue Side Park”. In regard to his use of substances, the page writes “He lusts
after fame, money, and women, and he smokes weed and parties. Obviously,
there’s nothing wrong with that; it is rap music, of course,” (Sargent). Ke$ha,
on the other hand is described by a blogger that The Guardian highlighted in
2009 as “trailer trashy” and “full of bravado and cheap beer” (Lester). Ke$ha’s
2010 persona is even still recently described as trashy; as papermag.com wrote
on April 18, 2018, “the trashy lyrics about brushing her teeth with Jack
Daniels, the way Kesha moved between speaking and speak-singing like a hangover
prevented her from giving more” (Morgan). The way in which her image has aged
is a powerful indicator of the strength of the perception of her image. Maybe
the disparity between portrayals in this case is merely a result of genre.
Maybe there’s more. Afterall, how many women were there alongside and as
successful as Mac Miller in the 2011 rap industry?
As recovered female alcoholic Brenda Wilhelmson writes in
her book “Diary of An Alcoholic Housewife”, she drank to try to fulfill her
idea of a successful writer in her male-dominated career as a journalist
(Wilhelmson). She engaged in alcohol abuse to try to keep up with the ultimate
success of the fellow journalists (Wilhelmson). Perhaps this notion of feeling
the need to drink to compete with males is a common thread between Wilhelmson
and the development of Ke$ha’s persona. Ke$ha has even publicly spoken out
about the distance between herself and her persona development, telling The
Guardian “Am I a party girl? … I don’t go to clubs. … I don’t do drugs … people
think I’m messed up all the time. I’m not,” (Elan). Her decision to
introduce alcohol abuse into her lyrical content and persona development were
certainly part of a strategy used to find and keep professional success. It is
likely that this decision not only accounted for fellow male artist competition
but also took into account the pervasive perceptions of female alcohol abuse
abuse”, in the United States, is currently a widely known term. Though the term
describes one of the most common forms of substance abuse in the United States,
there still remains conflict surrounding the causation of this behavior in this
century. To better understand the ways in which alcohol abuse is portrayed in
this century, we must first understand the ways in which alcohol addiction is
The two opposing sides of the argument are the Freudian
opinion and the biological opinion (Herzberg). The Freudian opinion states that
one’s alcoholism is a result of vulnerability created by social factors
(Herzberg). The biological opinion states that genetic predisposition makes one
vulnerable to alcoholism (Herzberg).
those of the biological opinion tend to sympathize more than those of the
Freudian opinion with both female and male alcoholics in the United states
because by pathologizing the abuse it became an illness rather than a flaw in
character (Herzberg). Those of the Freudian opinion, on the other hand tend to
stigmatize alcoholism as a result of poor decision making in both men and women
(Herzberg). This is because viewing addiction as a socialized element places
autonomy onto the abusers in relation to their own abuse. Some have an opinion
between the prior two extremes. This results in both sympathy and a placing of
blame for both men and women (Herzberg). Though these broader schools of
thought surrounding portrayal of abuse serve to create a framework for further
differentiations between male and female alcoholics: while these broader ideas
may seem non-gender-discriminatory, there is much more to social portrayals
than this foundation they rest on.
further tackling gendered double standards within portrayals, it is necessary
to first acknowledge some of the current understanding of the ways that women
are believed to react biologically differently to alcohol than men. The
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that women are at a
larger risk of some alcohol related problems (“Women and Alcohol”). This is
contributed to by women’s general smaller physical weight, which creates a
higher alcohol to body ratio for a smaller person than for a larger person. It
is also contributed to by the fact that, on average, women have less water in
their bodies than men pound for pound (“Women and Alcohol”). Both of these factors yield a higher blood
alcohol content faster for the average female body than for the average male
body (“Women and Alcohol”). This puts the average woman at a higher risk of
alcohol abuse or alcoholism. But is this slight gender difference, based on
average body types, cause enough for the formation of gendered double
1950 to 2000
A study in 1968 called “Family history studies: IV.
Comparison of male and female alcoholics.” found that addiction was potentially
genetic in part, supporting the modern biological perspective (Winokur, George,
and Paula J Clayton). On the other hand, the 1967 study “A Comparison of the
Outcome of Treatment in Female and Male Alcoholics” was skeptical of scientific
understanding of alcohol abuse at that time, criticizing research that has now
been disputed. The text opens with the telling quote “The literature on female
alcoholism is relatively scanty,” (Pemberton 367). The author further
elaborates, discussing relevant studies, one of which from the 1958 United
States “thought that female alcoholism was an expression of personality
misdevelopment, and produced some evidence to support this view,” (Pemberton
367). This study points to what is perhaps largely a root of a gender divide in
representations of alcohol abuse: misunderstanding. As we see from this, the
understanding of alcohol abuse by women was still severely incomplete in the
As an 1884 published research source stated, gender roles
are largely the dictator between differences in behavior between males and
females (Bell, Ralph, et al.). As Bell, Havelicek, and Roncek succinctly write,
“Differences in behavioral outcomes between men and women are believed to
reflect the differences surrounding socially appropriate behavior,” (Bell,
Ralph, et al. 552). This study goes beyond biological explanations and expands
into the impact of society on individual action. The paper reveals that general
literature concurs that men are more likely to be frequent alcohol users than
women (Bell, Ralph, et al.). However, this source and likely the sources
referenced in it take data by interview. We can learn, then, that men
interviewed were at least more comfortable admitting to frequent alcohol use
than women interviewed. Perhaps this is a result of the forces that created a
study that stated alcoholism is a result of “personality misdevelopment” in
women specifically (Pemberton 367).
To state that “9.4% of the males interviewed are heavy
drinkers compared to only 1.6% of the females interviewed” is merely to say
that 7.8% more of men admitted to heavy drinking (Bell, Ralph, et al. 552) fi.
These admittances, still, are powerful indicators of perhaps a gender divide in
heavy alcohol consumption but are also a window into the expected image of
female alcohol users. Perhaps 7.8% of women or more did drink heavily in this
study, yet perhaps many women were hesitant to admit their drinking habits.
An episode of mainstream sitcom “Full House” aired in 1990
shows the Caucasian eldest daughter of the family, still a child, being
pressured by Caucasian boys to drink alcohol; see image 3 (Franklin). The boys
are portrayed as the “bad boy” trope, and the characters of the show seem to
find it relatively normal that boys would be the ones accessing forbidden
alcohol. As two of her male guardians catch and discuss the daughter’s eventual
association with beer, she desperately askes one “How could you take his side[,
that I was drinking,] instead of believing your own daughter?” (Franklin).
Here, we see a loss of credibility of the female in the situation, and notions
of shame toward her perceived actions and her presented danger to herself. The
boys, however, are not discussed and are not penalized. They are portrayed as
rebellious, but not dangerous. This double standard of a different treatment of
the daughter and the boys can be likened to a different treatment of Ke$ha and
Mac Miller: the females consuming alcohol face the most negative response.
1900 to 1950
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of 1873 stated that
male substance abuse was out of control (Gordon). With the organization’s
support, the United States entered a period of the Prohibition from 1920 to
1933 (Gordon). During this time, alcohol creation and consumption were illegal.
While largely a restrictive movement, many women were
empowered by the circumstances of Prohibition. As stated in “Tippling Ladies
and the Making of Consumer Culture”, women sought opportunities to drink
alcohol during this time (Remus). Remus writes that “The conflict over their
conspicuous tippling concerned more than spatial boundaries; it pivoted on the
right of women to pursue individual pleasure in public—a right most brazenly
expressed by drinking” (Remus 753). This quote gives specific attention to a
right to pleasure that women have been historically deprived of. For this
reason, among others, drinking itself was largely portrayed as a man’s activity
in the United States leading up to this point.
Encouraged Women to Drink” further describes the making, selling and
consumption of liquor by women during Prohibition. It continues the argument
that bootlegging and drinking by women were “critical developments in how women
worked and played in public” (Blakemore). Prohibition was indisputably powerful
in liberating women in many ways. This liberation, however, was not captured by
much of mass media.
the United States ruled that films were not entitled to protection under free
speech (Hunt). Mainstream media of most kinds followed this trend of censorship
(Hunt). The power of portrayals was perhaps most acknowledged under this
censorship. As a 1915 article exclaimed that “Many persons now recognize that
the cultural and moral influence of ‘the movie’ must be carefully estimated. …”
(Hunt). The federal Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 stated that “The use
of liquor in American Life, when not required by the plot or for proper
characterization, will not be shown” (“Appendix 1: The Motion Picture
Production Code.” 59).
virtual silence of mass media on the subject of alcohol abuse liberating? Or
was it deceptive in its conciliatory nature? Perhaps it was both. The heavy
freedom seen in “Tippling Ladies” was certainly enhanced without film exposure
of the women’s actions. But enhanced freedom is still relative and, though
women may have been freer to abuse alcohol within this circumstance than they
would have been with film’s exposure, women still lacked even basic freedoms in
this timeframe, compared to men. For this reason, it is likely that female
alcohol abuse was stigmatized more intensely than men’s at this time.
Women’s actions have been historically treated differently
than when men do those same actions. As shown in this paper, one of countless
examples is the treatment of women who consume alcohol. The United States
society from 1900 to present has treated women who abuse alcohol in various
ways over time. By looking at portrayals of female and male alcohol abuse
within this time span, while comparing differences of portrayals of males in
the same timeframe and location, it becomes clear that gendered double
standards ties into portrayals of alcoholism. “Chill” Mac Miller and “wild”
Ke$ha were treated very differently for abusing alcohol in reviews in this
century. They were also represented by very different personas. Similarly, the
oldest daughter in “Full House” was treated with distrust and a much more
severely negative reaction for alleged underaged drinking than were the actual
boys who provided the alcohol in the mid 1900’s. Drinking alcohol was largely
unable to even be depicted in media in the early 1900’s, though women were able
to be relatively liberated by female work and social rebellion during
Prohibition. Still, these women’s liberation left them behind men in rights and
likely left their alcohol abuse more stigmatized than men. A common thread
through these examples is clear: females are repeatedly perceived as worse than
males when abusing alcohol. This perception has varied over time and will
likely vary in the future. It is important that we are conscious of the way
that media portrayals are not only a product of societal values, but that the
portrayals impact the way that we understand the world as well.
“Appendix 1: The Motion Picture Production Code.” Asu.edu,
Bell, Ralph, et al. “Sex Differences in the Use of Alcohol
and Tranquilizers: Testing a Role Convergence Hypothesis.” The American Journal
of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 10, no. 4, 1984, pp. 551–561.,
Blakemore, Erin. “How Prohibition Encouraged Women to
Drink.” JSTOR Daily, JSTOR, 16 Feb. 2018.
Elan, Priya. “Tik Tok: Ke$Ha’s Time in the Spotlight May
Already Be Running Out.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Mar. 2010,
Franklin, Jeff. “Just Say No Way.” Full House, season 3,
Gordon, Elizabeth Putnam. Women Torch-Bearers: the Story of
the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Kessinger Pub., 2007. Archive.org,
Herzberg, David. Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to
Prozac, Johns Hopkins University
Wilhelmson, Brenda. Diary of An Alcoholic Housewife.
Winokur, George, and Paula J Clayton. “Family History
Studies: IV. Comparison of Male and Female Alcoholics.” PsycINFO.
“Women and Alcohol.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 July 2019,
What’s up, and welcome to my blog. Ever wonder more about the context surrounding modern-day drug use? I know I do. That’s why I’ve gathered you all here today to discuss.
Today’s topic? Opium.
We will be looking at chapter 3 of “Addicts Who Survived” by David T. Courtwright, Herman Joseph, and Don Des Jarlais, as well as “In the Opium Den” by Anthony W. Lee.
“Addicts Who Survived” is a book that utilizes first-hand accounts of drug users to paint a vivid picture of the drug culture. This chapter examines usage of opium in the United States, colloquially called “hop”, in the early 1900’s.
“In the Opium Den” is an article about opium dens in the United States. It explores
While each work has significant content independently, even greater insight can be obtained by comparing the content of the two works. In this blog post, I will put them in conversation with one another.
The Short and Sweet
I will now breakdown the most important points of each of the two works.
“In the Opium Den” basically opens with a story of one specific experience surrounding opium around the late 1800s, then uses this story to lead into a broader historical discussion. The opening story talks about a Mexican man in San Francisco headed to an opium den in Chinatown with a Chinese photographer. These dens had become more covert since laws created to prohibit opium from 1875-1881. These laws were triggered by Caucasian worker’s anger at the Chinese obtaining jobs building the transatlantic railroad, who condemned dens for their affiliation with the Chinese. Stigmatization of the drug then escalated to the point of regarding both Chinese and non-Chinese opium users with no respect.
The article argues that opium caused social anxiety in the late 1800s and on because:
1) US opium suppliers to China lost business because the Chinese grew their own. “There was no imperial reason to justify and explain away domestic opium addiction” (Lee 165)
2) dens showed a strong Chinese community despite the
1882 Chinese Exclusion act
3) the alleged “filth” of Chinatown countered bourgeoise “cleanliness”
4) the dens signified not only addiction, but something cultivated around a culture, this is to say that the consumption of the drug had a strong social component
Finally, the author discusses the ways in which the United States society viewed opium as symbolic of oriental values and, by extension, countered the American dream ideology of constant progress. He counters this by stating that though opium was understood to be a western drug, the British and Americans started Chinese opium culture by addicting the Chinese- it was a result of foreign imperialism. He concludes that dens are a product of colonialism- one that Americans view as a flaw of the Chinese.
Was the evidence in the beginning anecdotal? And regardless, did it aid in the overall argument? What are the visible products of the social anxieties discussed? And what factors created such a powerful perception in the United States’ public of opium as a purely eastern commodity when it so certainly originated as a western good?
“Addicts Who Survived” is a compilation of first-hand sources. The accounts opens with a text about the use of opium as a party drug in the 1920’s. It further addresses the racialized stigma of the Chinese’s association with opium. The first-hand accounts take place during a time after the Harrison Act in 1915 that left the major opium consumer groups of the Chinese and the upper-class whites. Each talks about a journey to opium addiction.
Will human mentality ever shift to the point where there is not a party drug? And is the first-hand account dangerous when presented in a context so removed from its origin in this way?
Now, for what we have all been waiting for. Putting one text into conversation with the other.
The most noticeable difference between the two texts is the type of source each is. The author of “Addicts Who Survived” (AWS) chose to construct his source out of first-hand accounts. In doing so, the author of “In the Opium Den” (ITOD) would likely argue that he sacrificed the succinctness that we find in the second-hand source of ITOD. Still, the author of AWS would likely counter with the idea that the first-hand accounts leave it up to the reader to make conclusions for himself. His text’s content emphasizes the human mentality behind addiction in a way that ITOD does not.
In relation to content, there was heavy overlap between the themes of both works. Perhaps the most important to discuss, however, is the divide between Chinese and non-Chinese opium users.
As we see in ITOD, laws against opium were triggered by Caucasian anger at Chinese workers obtaining transatlantic railroad jobs, condemning dens for their ties to the Chinese. This overall theme of racism toward the Chinese is seen throughout the piece.
AWS often mentions division between white and Chinese people. For instance, Freida talks about having “never smoked with any Chinese” at one point (“Hop” 81-82). Lao Pai-hsing talks about the division stating that “[smoke houses] were for Chinese people only: we didn’t trust white people” (“Hop” 84). In just these quotes, we see both white and Chinese users discuss the divide. The separation by race, despite using the same drug, is certainly significant.
In putting these two texts into conversation with one another, we are able to view them as an example of the broader racial divide in the time frames discussed. How does that divide function now? And what can the past, in this instance, tell us about the future?
Thank for reading!
“Hop.” Addicts Who Survived: an Oral History of Narcotic Use in America, 1923-1965, by David
T. Courtwright et al., University of Tennessee Press, 1989, pp. 77–102.
Lee, Anthony W. “In the Opium Den.” Pmla, vol. 125, no. 1, 2010, pp. 172–176.,