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Liz’s Blaze It Blog II

Hey, 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.

Today’s topic?

Caroline 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

-The work aims to fill the gap that exists when only science is used to examine addiction.

-It does so by focusing on social factors that determine who it is that is becoming addicted.

-The argument of the piece’s purpose is that social factors are powerful, so powerful that it is irresponsible to ignore them when examining addiction.

-It focuses on crack epidemics in urban neighborhoods in the 1980’s, looking at causes of this circumstance.

Happy Pills (Pages 1-14)

-It opens with a dramatic “Paxil” advertisement that promises its users a restored sense of self.

-Explains that ads like these are rooted in post-WWII medicine in America.

-Mentions that the 1990’s ushered in a trend of skepticism of pharmaceutical messages.

-Emphasizes the role of consumerism.

-Mentions the defining of the “war on drugs” as often excluding prescription drugs.

-Brings back the powerful idea that the history we know is missing many pieces of information.

A Couple Examples of the Many Common Threads

There are many common threads throughout the two works, but I selected two that I found to be the most dominant.

While the 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 history.

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.

1)Notions of 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 complete cure-all

                            -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.

2)Component of incomplete understanding shaping views of drug users

              -HCFNAG: idea of the “crack baby”

                            -Science initially, 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

                            -Drug advertisements 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 manipulates consumers.


In looking 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.

To better 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.

Works Cited

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,

Portrayals of Caucasian Female Alcohol Abusers in the United States


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 counterparts?

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.

This Century

              There are 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’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 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 specifically.

              “Alcohol 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 currently understood.

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).

              Currently, 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.

              Before 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 standards?

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 late 1960’s.

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.

 “How Prohibition 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.

              In 1915, 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).

              Was this 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.


Image 1.

Image 2.

Image 3.

Works Cited

“Appendix 1: The Motion Picture Production Code.”, Asu.

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., doi:10.3109/00952998409001492.

Blakemore, Erin. “How Prohibition Encouraged Women to Drink.” JSTOR Daily, JSTOR, 16 Feb. 2018.

“Boys Spraying Beer onto Girl.”

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, episode 21.

Gordon, Elizabeth Putnam. Women Torch-Bearers: the Story of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Kessinger Pub., 2007.,

Herzberg, David. Happy Pills in America : From Miltown to Prozac, Johns Hopkins University

Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Hunt, Kristin. “The End of American Film Censorship.” JSTOR Daily, 28 Feb. 2018.

Ke$ha. “TiK ToK.” TiK ToK.

“Kesha Na Turnê Em 2011.”

Lester, Paul. “New Band of the Day – No 640: Ke$Ha.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Oct. 2009,

“Mac Miller with Hands Together and Neutral Facial Expression.”

Miller, Mac. “Up All Night.” Up All Night.

Moran, Justin. “The Millionaires Walked So Kesha Could Run.” Paper, PAPERMAG, 17 Sept. 2019,

Pemberton, D. A. “A Comparison of the Outcome of Treatment in Female and Male Alcoholics.” British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 113, no. 497, Apr. 1967, pp. 367–373., doi:10.1192/bjp.113.497.367.

Remus, Emily A. “Tippling Ladies and the Making of Consumer Culture: Gender and Public Space in Fin-De-Siècle Chicago.” The Journal of American History, Dec. 2014, pp. 751–777.

Sargent, Jordan. “Mac Miller: Blue Slide Park.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 8 Dec. 2011,

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,

Liz’s Blaze It Blog

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?

The Conversation

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!

Works Cited

“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.,