Drug addiction in the 50's-70's
October 25, 2009 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Was there a measured increase in drug addiction due to the hippie movement? What were the drug addiction rates like in the 1950's compared to the 60's and 70's. Are there any resources that have historical data on addiction rates and the particular substances popular at the time?

This spawned from a discussion I was having with a coworker about the drug war and he claims that drug use increased greatly due to the loosening of social mores and the liberation of permissible actions. Is there any data out there that covers drug use and addiction for the transition from the more conservitive 50's early 60's and into the more liberal late 60's and 70's?
posted by TheJoven to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have data but it sounds like your co-worker is confusing correlation and causation.

Just because drug use increased in a more liberal era doesn't mean increased liberalism caused increased drug use. This is assuming, of course, that it is in fact true that rates of drug addiction increased from the 1950s through the 1960s.

Given the beatniks' penchant for various kinds of drugs, I have my doubts as to whether that is really true.
posted by dfriedman at 9:08 PM on October 25, 2009

I'd start here, and happy hunting:


It is suggestive that many of the surveys that monitor the information most of interest to you were not started until the early 1970s or later....it suggests that whatever was going on with actual use, people certainly started to be more worried about drug use among the young at that time. Looks like the FBI uniform crime reports and juvie court stats are the only sources that go back far enough for you, and those don't track use so much as arrests for possession.
posted by Diablevert at 9:25 PM on October 25, 2009

There's little direct data from the 50s and the early 60s, but SAMHSA has guesstimated drug use incidence during that period. Leaving aside causality and such, there's a gradual uptick in first use of marijuana starting in the early 60s, which picks up in the mid 60s, and hits a peak in the early 70s. This is what I remember.

UPDATE: Found something, but not the tables I remembered looking at.

Based on changes in rates of incidence and last year prevalence identified from these analyses and from published findings, described above, we delineated five historical periods that defined different periods of the marijuana epidemic and characterized the cultural context with respect to marijuana use of the parents in their adolescence.

1. 1963 and earlier: Pre epidemic; low incidence and prevalence of marijuana use.
2. 1964-1971: Low marijuana incidence; the number of new users began to increase.
3. 1972-1977: High marijuana incidence; the number of new marijuana users peaked and remained high among all age groups.
4. 1978-1982: High marijuana use prevalence; the number of new users gradually decreased but the rates of prevalence were at their highest levels, especially among young adults 18-25 years old.
5. 1983 and later: Post-epidemics; incidence and prevalence rates declined.

posted by daksya at 9:56 PM on October 25, 2009

Does your coworker not consider drinking alcohol to be drug use? Because people used to drink, a lot.
posted by Good Brain at 10:04 PM on October 25, 2009

There was also an somewhat unpopular war going on, consuming half million bodies a year for the latter half of the sixties.

There's also a demographic angle to consider. The baby boom peaked in 1960, and the first tide of teenagers appeared in the mid-60s.

and he claims that drug use increased greatly due to the loosening of social mores and the liberation of permissible actions

What's to stop people from smoking pot? The Man, who didn't get his act together until the early 1980s, when the War on Drugs got rolling.
posted by mokuba at 10:12 PM on October 25, 2009

You might want to check out the book This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America by Ryan Grim.
posted by gudrun at 10:16 PM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

those marijuana statistics may not be too useful, as marijuana isn't considered addictive.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:34 PM on October 25, 2009

Addiction, as such, isn't really a good measure because most of the drugs which were particularly popular with the hippies aren't really addictive: marijuana, LSD and the other synthetic hallucinogens, peyote (mescaline), psilocybin, and so on.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:10 AM on October 26, 2009

You may want to check out the work of dr. Gemma Blok, a Dutch historian specialized in drugs and drugs related policy.
posted by Zinda68 at 2:00 AM on October 26, 2009

If you're looking for statistics on drug addiction, you'll almost certainly find that the majority of addiction (as opposed to habitual use) occurs within the realm of alcohol and prescription drugs such as painkillers. But I'm guessing you're really asking about the habitual use of illegal substances, as opposed to actual addiction across the whole gamut of substances.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:58 AM on October 26, 2009

An increase in drug addition compared to what other time? Use of opiates and addiction was pretty widespread before there was regulation of drugs, and cocaine was popular for a while and had a little vogue in the 20s (see the term "cokey comedies" or the lyrics to "Minnie the Moocher").
posted by dilettante at 3:18 AM on October 26, 2009

Addiction, damn it. Too early to be typing.
posted by dilettante at 3:19 AM on October 26, 2009

I would think that prescription drugs of the time would have lent a lot more to an increase in drug addicts in that time period, if there even was an increase. Doctors gave out speed and valium to pretty much anyone who walked in the door.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:47 AM on October 26, 2009

This spawned from a discussion I was having with a coworker about the drug war and he claims that drug use increased greatly due to the loosening of social mores and the liberation of permissible actions.

References to recreational drug use in popular culture certainly increased. This certainly increased the perception that more people were doing various drugs.

But yeah, this data is going to be really, really noisy, because the way amphetamines and Valium were used in the 50s would often be considered prescription drug abuse by our standards now, but were rationalized as being legit medication youknowwhatimean.

And ohh, gods, the drinking. And let us not forget the smoking -- nicotine is a stimulant. Acceptable behaviors regarding both have changed; both deserve a healthy ping on the scale of how we modulate our moods chemically.
posted by desuetude at 4:32 PM on October 26, 2009

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