Escape from Custody: A Classic Book and a New Collection

Alcohol and drugs historians have long lamented the archival limitations of studying past substance users. Substance users typically enter the historical record through retrospective oral histories, the archives of hospitals or prisons, or popular books and media. All these sources have shortcomings: oral histories are riddled with the errors of human memory, institutional archives are usually limited to clinical and criminal records, and popular culture is distorted by sensationalism or artistry. As Bob Beach, Miriam Kingsberg, and Joe Gabriel have argued on Points’ pages, finding the “user’s perspective” is historically difficult.

I’d like to introduce researchers to another point of access to the past: Robert Straus’s Escape from Custody: A Study of Alcoholism as Reflected in the Life Record of a Homeless Man (Harper & Row, 1974), a classic text that offers a uniquely detailed portrait of one man’s chronic alcohol use in mid-twentieth century America.

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Reckoning with Anslinger, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gore File

Editor’s Note: This week, Bob Beach continues his discussion of evidence in the archives. This essay is based on his recent trip to the Harry J. Anslinger Papers at Penn State University.

I know he was simply doing his job, but it was a strange experience. This was not my first archive trip. But when the gentleman in charge of the Harry Anslinger papers collection at Penn State approached, by way of introduction, I couldn’t help but notice that he was sizing me up, almost like a bouncer would size up a potential nightclub patron who looked much too young. Perhaps I should have worn a tie.

In an almost accusatorial tone, he wanted to know why I was there, what I was looking for in the collection, what my motives were. He gave me a brief lecture on the importance of accurate note-taking and documentation. After a few minutes talking to him, he realized that I was a serious researcher and would not pose any threat to the collection. But he shared vague war stories about people that have been through the collection, some of whom misrepresented the collection as a whole, and some who stole documents to add to personal collections to add ammunition to what seems like a never-ending war on our first drug czar. Continue reading →

A Consuming Desire

Valentine’s Day is among the sweetest holidays celebrated in the United States, both figuratively and literally. On February 14, 2015, according to diet data supplied by MyFitnessPal, Americans were 37 percent more likely to indulge in chocolates than on any other day of the year. (Chocolate-covered items, however, were up 323 percent and “conversation heart” candies increased a staggering but hardly surprising 3,777 percent.)

Sweet nothings. (Image: Wikipedia)

On the first weekday after an indulgent occasion like Valentine’s Day, you might notice colleagues pouring packets of Sweet’n Low in their coffee or sipping a Diet Coke instead of the regular, sugared variety. You might even do it yourself. Personally, I became doubly interested in the history of artificial sweeteners as a user of sugar-free products but also from my academic preoccupation with consumption. I’ll return to this point soon, but first I’d like to share some fascinating parallels between the substances some of us study and artificial sweeteners I found in historian Carolyn De La Peña’s Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda.

Carolyn De La Peña (Image:

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Guest Post: Jonathon Erlen’s Dissertation Abstracts (Fall 2014)

Editor’s Note: Readers of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s journal, are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of recent dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Until recently, Dr. Erlen, the History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, curated and published his dissertation lists in the print edition of the journal. Last August, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society moved the publication of Erlen’s bibliography to the blog. Below, we highlight a few of the most intriguing entries and provide links to pdfs of Erlen’s selections from the ProQuest index. These entries were harvested from ProQuest’s database in the fall of 2014.

Links to complete bibliographies:

ATOD Bibliography Vol 75, issue 4

ATOD Bibliography Vol 75, issue 6

ATOD Bibliography Vol 75, issue 7


Sinners, Saints and Sophists: Marijuana Discourse and Policy in the United States, 1970-2010

Author: Malizia, Stefan

Department: Sociology

Institution: University of California at Irvine

Advisor:  Frank, David John; Committee: Snow, David A.; Seron, Carroll


I study the evolution of public discourse and policy surrounding the use of marijuana in the United States between 1970 and 2010, focusing on the interactions of activists, public officials, and broader cultural and political contexts involved in social change. My goal is to explain the continuities and breaks between earlier debates on the decriminalization of recreational uses of marijuana, and more recent debates on the legalization of medical marijuana. I gather data primarily from a sample of articles from two prominent U.S. newspapers, collected for a content analysis of public discourse; and also from several archival sources of statistics, collected to model state-level passages of medical marijuana laws. My findings suggest a democratization of the discourse over time, such that actors excluded from decriminalization debates as deviants are able to `come to voice’ as credible authorities in medicalization debates, transforming public perceptions of marijuana and influencing the passage of liberalized state- level marijuana laws. More broadly, my findings suggest a greater role played by cultural contexts than is currently afforded by dominant theories of movements and social change.

Risk Factors for Injection versus Non-Injection Drug Use Among Men in Kermanshah City, Iran in 2005: An Observational Study

Author: Alaei, Kamiar

Department: Health Policy, Management, and Behavior

Institution: State University of New York at Albany

Advisor: Shaw, Benjamin A.; Committee: Sherman, Barry R., Khoshnood, Kaveh, Latkin, Carl


Background: Iran is one of the countries with the highest rate of opioid and heroin consumption in the world. Injection drug use (IDU) is a relatively new phenomenon in Iran, where opium smoking was previously more prevalent. This study aims to identify risk factors that differentiate drug users who become injectors from those who do not. Injection is associated with increased risk for HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV), drug dependence, overdose, and other blood borne diseases. The aim of this study is to identify personal and social characteristics associated with injection among a sample of male drug users seeking drug treatment in Kermanshah, Iran. Methods: This observational study compared IDUs and non-IDUs in a sample of 948 males who sought addiction treatment at a methadone clinic in western Iran between February 1, 2004 and August 31, 2005. Logistic regression was employed to assess the association of the independent risk factors associated with IDUs compared to non-IDUs in this population. Results: The study population included 177 injection drug users (IDUs) (18.67%), and 771 non-IDUs. The unadjusted odds ratio indicated that drug users with the following characteristics were more likely to be IDUs: 1.) initiated drug use at a younger age; 2.) were born or lived in an urban area; 3.) obtained more education; 4.) were unemployed; 5.) were single 6.) and/or had no children;7.) started smoking before the age of 20; 8) had one blood relative drug user; 9.) used drugs four times or more per day; 10) ceased drug use while in prison; or 11.) began with or used other drugs like buprenorphine, heroin, or marijuana. The logistic regression analysis revealed that the following four risk factors out of aforementioned 11 variables remained associated with IDU in this sample:1) younger age, 2) buprenorphine use (an opioid partial agonist which can be used as a substantial therapy for opioid users), 3) using drugs four times or more per day, and 4). history of drug use cessation in prison. The impact of these factors differed based on the initiation of drug use before or after 2000. Subjects that began using drugs prior to 2000 (before the ban on poppy in neighboring Afghanistan) faced different environmental risk factors for injection. Among subjects who began using drugs after 2000, drug users who were more educated were at greater risk for injection as compared to less educated drug users, while among those who began using drugs before the year 2000, education level did not have an impact on injection. Conversely, being forced to quit drugs in prison or in mandatory governmental camps was a risk factor for injection. This is because during their time in prison, people had less access to substantial therapy and harm reduction services to relieve withdrawal symptoms. This held for subjects who began using drugs prior to the year 2000, but not those who began using after 2000. Conclusion: Factors associated with injection are likely influenced by the interaction of personal, social and larger environmental factors. In this sample, IDUs were younger, used buprenorphine, engaged in a high frequency of drug use per day, and had a previous history of cessation in prison or government camps. Interventionists must be able to tailor care of drug users based on contextual factors, such as date of drug use initiation. However, knowledge about these factors can indirectly guide us to identify and assess other contextual factors that may have an impact on the significance of risk factors for injection. In this study, the time-bound contextual conditions (before/after 2000) under which an individual initiate drug use are key factors to be considered as the first step in any risk factor evaluation for injection. For instance, the significance of some social factors, such as level of education; or personal factors, like history of rehabilitation in prison; may be relevant during a certain time period due to impact of other environmental factors, such as level of access to provided educational program about negative impact of injection at schools, or availability of drug or substance therapy services inside prison. When working with the drug-using population, we must be careful not to group them in a single category. Identifying risk factors associated with injection can help design more effective strategies for this subgroup of drug users (non-IDUs) from becoming injection drug users (IDUs). One gains the ability to target these risk factors in order to prevent injection initiation, providing harm reduction to drug users who have yet to inject and are at the highest risk for injecting.

Just say know: How the parent movement shaped America’s modern war on drugs, 1970-2000

Author: Dufton, Emily B.

Department: American Studies

Institution: George Washington University

Advisor: Ribuffo, Leo P. Committee: Guglielmo, Thomas A., Miller, James A., McAlister, Melani, Berkowitz, Edward


Between 1973 and 1978, a dozen states containing over a third of the nation’s population decriminalized or legalized the possession of marijuana. Through the work of groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and business groups catering to the growing field of marijuana consumers, pot and its surrounding culture swept the United States, with head shops opening in local malls while movies and music celebrated the drug’s use. In response to the increasing availability of marijuana, however, rates of adolescent marijuana use spiked. By 1979, 11 percent of high school seniors reported smoking pot daily. In response, a counterrevolution to marijuana’s thriving “drug culture” formed among the nation’s parents. The parent movement, founded by Marsha “Keith” Manatt Schuchard in the summer of 1976, rejected the common opinion that marijuana was harmless, and Schuchard emphasized that parents had a duty to take control of their children’s environment and prevent their family from using drugs. Schuchard’s platform, known as “parent power,” was spread through meetings, media coverage, and educational forums and conferences, and thousands of desperate parents quickly joined the fold. By 1980, the movement had spread nationwide, with local parent groups in every state using education and consciousness-raising to further their message. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP) had formed in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland. This national umbrella group engaged in political lobbying and organizing the over four thousand individual parent groups that had sprouted across the United States. It also aligned with Nancy Reagan when the first lady took on adolescent drug abuse prevention as her national platform. By 1983, members of the parent movement were involved in directing the course of federal anti-drug education, presenting at congressional hearings, influencing national media campaigns, and determining how to use the millions of dollars in federal and private funding that the movement was regularly receiving. In the wake of these massive national anti-drug efforts, rates of adolescent marijuana use plummeted. Despite this success, however, the movement died off by the early 1990s. This dissertation is the first complete history of the parent movement, as well as an examination of its most long-lasting effects. It posits two primary arguments: that the parent movement was responsible for placing children at the center of the nation’s war on drugs, and that its history complicates the overly-simplified narrative of “America’s right turn.” It also exposes several of the hidden aspects of the movement’s history, including the important contributions of non-white activists and the role that the parent movement, drug use and anti-drug prevention played in the nation’s culture wars that took place during this time. Supported by interviews with parent activists as well as access to newsletters, correspondence and other materials, this dissertation shows how intimately connected the parent movement was to the social and political environment of its time, and how its contributions to the nation’s war on drugs continue to have deep ramifications today.

A Permanent Dragnet?: Drug Arrests, Violent Crime, and Durable Disadvantage in the Urban US

Author: Friedson, Michael Seth

Department: Sociology

Institution: New York University

Advisor: Corradi, Juan E.; Committee: Sharkey, Patrick; Goodwin, Jeff; Duster, Troy;  Horowitz, Ruth


This dissertation analyzes changes in the drug arrest rates of approximately two-hundred United States cities, the largest by population in 1990, from around 1980, prior to the advent of crack cocaine and the accompanying increase in drug arrest rates, until 2008, when violent crime levels had experienced sustained and major declines in the urban US. Drug arrests are demonstrated to be an important research topic because of the contribution of drug law enforcement to record high US prison admission and incarceration rates, as well as possible disparate impacts of aggressive drug law enforcement upon poor and minority communities. The analysis focuses particularly on the changing relationship of drug arrest rates to urban violence levels and indicators of disadvantage. Also included in the dissertation are chapters analyzing the changing relationship of drug arrests to drug abuse as a public health problem, as indicated by drug-related emergency room hospitalization rates; the changing composition of drug arrest rates by race of arrestee, drug type, and seriousness (possession vs. distribution) of the offense; and changing patterns of drug usage with regard to the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of users. Longitudinal multivariate statistical techniques, including multilevel mixed effects modeling, are used to determine the static and dynamic urban characteristics associated with trajectories of change in municipal drug arrest rates, subsequent to their mid-1990s peak period. Changes in municipal violent crime levels are also modeled, from their early-1990s peak period onward, for the purpose of comparison. The central substantive question framing the inquiry concerns better understanding the tendency of drug arrest rates to remain elevated near their peak levels, through the 1990s and 2000s, even as urban violence levels, with which drug arrest rates were once strongly associated, precipitously and sustainably declined. The dissertation analyzes the unraveling of a previously tight nexus between municipal drug arrest rates, urban violence levels, indicators of drugs as a public health problem, and contemporaneous indicators of urban disadvantage, even as drug arrest rates have remained closely connected to–and indeed become a durable aspect of–long-term patterns of disadvantage in the urban US.

The Points Interview: Gretchen Pierce and Aurea Toxqui

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re long overdue for an interview about the superb new essay collection, Alcohol in Latin America: A Social and Cultural History (University of Arizona Press, 2014). The collection is edited by Gretchen Pierce, an Associate Professor of History at Shippensburg University (and a past contributor to Points) and Aurea Toxqui, an Associate Professor of History at Bradley University. Read on for an overview of this sweeping collection on the history of alcohol in Latin America.

screenshot_1226Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Toxqui: This book is about how alcohol has been not only at the center of any celebration in Latin America, but also at the center of political, economic, social, and religious policies. It has locally and transnationally bonded people since the pre-Columbian times and continues doing so in the era of globalization.

Pierce: This is a book that has ten chapters. Each chapter is about one country in particular, but on the whole we have seven different countries or regions that are studied, and it spans a long time period from the pre-Columbian era (before Columbus arrived in the Americas) up through the present day. What the book attempts to do is use alcohol as a lens to study bigger topics within Latin American history.

For instance, one chapter looks at Brazil and talks about a native drink that indigenous people in Brazil consumed (cauim). This was a fermented beverage made from local plant matter. Then when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil they brought in very hard, distilled liquors that were more common in Europe at the time. The essay looks at relationships that are forged between native peoples and European explorers and commissioners and talks about how, as they’re changing from one beverage to another, they’re also changing customs. The colonizers attempt to Christianize the native people and to change them from their traditional polytheistic religion, and alcohol is seen as connected to their past religious tradition.

Another example is my chapter. I look at Mexico in the twentieth century as Mexico was attempting prohibition of alcohol. Prohibitionists were claiming that this was a very revolutionary thing to do; Mexico was in the middle of a revolution: “If you stop drinking you’ll be able to save your money and all those people who are exploiting you won’t be able to do so. You’ll be educated, healthy, and sober.” But strangely enough, the very people the revolutionaries were trying to help were continuing to sell alcohol at a small scale were very resistant to finding a new line of work. I use this to show revolutions are contested; even if the idea is to help working people, if you take away a source of income from them, they’re going to fight back. I use alcohol as a lens to understand how normal people become involved in the process of state-building.

Some of the bigger themes of the collection are gender relations, racial tensions, and nation-building.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

Toxqui: They will find how the same roles and processes in which alcohol and drugs have been involved in other regions of the world are repeated in Latin American countries, with their specific connotations. Also they will find interesting how alcohol has been central to the cultures of Latin America.

Pierce: I hope that since it’s about alcohol they would find the whole thing interesting! I think many alcohol and drug historians at Points tend to focus on the United States, so I’m hoping that looking at a new region will be meaningful for them. I think people will be interested because of the interdisciplinary nature of the book. We have mostly historians, but we also have an anthropologist, an archeologist, an ethnohistorian, and a literary scholar. We take a broad approach.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

Toxqui: While editing the book, I truly enjoyed to see how no matter the landscape, the distance, the native groups to the region or if the area was colonized by Spaniards or by Portuguese or by French, alcohol has played pivotal roles in the development of Latin American societies throughout centuries. In the same way that food is an identity marker, the kind of beverage consumed by specific groups, which came in interaction as consequence of the European colonization, either indigenous, African slaves, poor white people, and their mixes or rich white colonizers, revealed a lot about how these people defined themselves within their community and in comparison to the rest of their society. I also found fascinating how in the effort of bringing modernization and progress to their Latin American nations, the white elites applied similar policies and reforms like those implemented in the United States or European nations.

Pierce: One of the surprising things is that alcohol is so central to so many different areas of history. One of the main things we argue is that alcohol history is not just a different type of history, but it’s central to political history, social history, economic history—and it’s integral to all of these other processes. I think often people think an alcohol history is going to be a laundry list— here’s how it was made, here’s who made it, that sort of thing. But it’s tied to the act of building a nation, it’s tied to modernization, it’s tied to traditional religious practices, it’s tied to how men and women interact, different racial groups. The way alcohol is central to other issues is interesting to me.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

Toxqui: Originally, the project included a chapter on Cuban rum and a chapter on Brazilian beer and temperance campaigns. I would’ve loved to see those chapters made it to the end. There are a few works on Cuban rum, but they are not written by historians. In the case of temperance movements, there are a few studies for Latin American cases such as Mexico, done by my co-editor Gretchen Pierce among others, or Uruguay and Guatemala, but there is nothing on Brazil. Another topic that I would love to read about is Colombian aguardiente. We heard and read about drug production in Colombia, but what about alcohol? It is a topic that needs to be explored.

Pierce: One of the things we would have liked to do—and that we attempted to do—was to cover all of the major regions of Latin America. For various reasons, certain chapters ended up falling through. For instance, we didn’t end up with a chapter in the Carribean, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico; we would have really liked to include them. We also had another chapter that focused on African-descended people that didn’t end up in the final version. If we can do a second edition of the book, I’d like to find chapters to fill those gaps.

In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

Pierce: The Dos Equis guy!

Toxqui: Of course the guy that advertises Dos Equis! As Gretchen told you. Just imagine him saying: “I don’t read too much, but when I do, I prefer Alcohol in Latin America. Stay thirsty my friends!”


Harry Gene Levine: Joseph R. Gusfield and the Multiple Perspectives of Cubist Sociology

Note from Ron:  Here is another tribute to the late Joe Gusfield, authored by Harry Gene Levine.  It circulated via email among some of us old-guard alcohol and drug history types a few days ago.  And, when I asked him, Harry was kind enough grant permission it be published at Points. The italicized first paragraph, below the Picasso image, offers Harry’s suggested introductory words for the piece.  I’m also going to take the liberty of adding, as a comment, below, my response to it when it was sent around by email.  I really like this piece.  Thank you, Harry!

Picasso's Guernica

Picasso’s Guernica

In 2000 I was invited to join a panel at the meetings of the Law and Society Association devoted to Joe Gusfield and his book Symbolic Crusade.  I wrote a four page presentation, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.  Since hearing of his death I have been thinking about him a lot and dug up the paper. It’s kind of sweet.    — H.G.L.

Joseph R. Gusfield’s book, Symbolic Crusade, discusses the temperance movement in America history. I too have studied the American temperance movement and would like to begin with a brief description of the temperance and prohibition crusade that I didn’t write but wish I could have: the first paragraph of Symbolic Crusade.

For many observers of American life, the temperance movement is evidence for an excessive moral perfectionism and an overly legalistic bent to American culture. It seems the action of devoted sectarians who are unable to compromise with human impulse. The legal measures taken to enforce abstinence display the reputed American faith in the power of Law to correct all evils. This moralism and utopianism bring smiles to the cynical and fear to the sinner. Such a movement seems at once naive, intolerant, saintly and silly.

One of the difficulties of writing like that is that it involves discussing so many things at one time. Every sentence in that paragraph talks about the American temperance movement, and about topics other than the temperance movement. I propose that double or triple focus is part of Gusfield’s intellectual genius. For many years I could not even recognize that Joe was focusing on several things at once. I myself am often unable to see even one thing at a time. At first I usually only see part of one thing. Then, like Columbo, the rumpled detective played by Peter Falk, I return scratching my head, thumbing through my notes, and asking again about something that still confuses me.

I’ve been reading Gusfield’s books and articles for twenty-five years trying to understand how he produces his distinctive intellectual, emotional and perceptual effects on the page and in the reader. I would like to report a few things I have figured out about Joseph R. Gusfield’s sociology.     Continue reading →

Challenging “The Great Disconnect”: The History and Changing Role of Psychiatry in Drug Use

(Editors Note: This post was written by Dr. Lucas Richert, a lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan.)

In recent years, the modification of marijuana laws in the United States, multiple doping scandals in professional sports (from Lance Armstrong to A-Rod), and the right-to-die debate have helped focus the public’s attention on drugs. At the same time, academia, policy-makers and interest groups all have a need for superior information about the complex role that recreational drugs and pharmaceutical products play in our lives.

According to Alan Leshner, “There is a unique disconnect between the scientific facts and the public’s perception about drug abuse and addiction. If we are going to make any progress, we need to overcome the ‘great disconnect.’”

Progress, whatever that meant for Leshner, will certainly be accompanied by a public discussion. And psychiatrists will continue to play a major role in shaping our understanding of drugs.

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