Drug Use By Decade, Part II

drug use through the years

Don’t miss part one of this article.


Many people are surprised to learn that the advent of methamphetamines in the United States really began after World War II. After having been outlawed in Germany, and supposedly given, briefly, to kamikaze pilots in Japan, meth entered the United States legally in the form of a diet pill. Desoxyn was the most commonly-prescribed pill with the addictive ingredient, though there were a few others on the market, including Methedrine. Both pills were lauded as effective remedies for obesity and depression, and were a success with the American public. During this time, tobacco companies continued to rake in massive profits, despite decade-old research suggesting that cigarettes, in particular, were harmful to human health.

Television, the marvelous new invention that was negatively impacting the film industry, showed a world that was close to home: the often-hilarious antics of a suburban man with a wife and children, cowboys that rode off to adventure, and crazy space adventures filled the homes of people all over the country. Cigarettes were one of the realistic touches in many of these television shows, and mirrored the widespread use in the United States. With the rights to purchasing and manufacturing alcohol back in the hands of the American public, issues with alcohol continued through this time, and continued to affect families whose relatives struggled with alcohol dependence. It is worth noting, though, that the face of alcohol addiction was assumed to be that of a blue collar man who spent too much time at the bar with shady characters – the antithesis of television’s two heroes, the clean, white suburban husband, and the victorious, heroic white cowboy, both of whom were expected to smoke.  


One of the most radical times in contemporary US history is the 60s: civil rights, AIM, Woodstock, and Second-Wave Feminism rocked social norms and changed culture all over the United States. The 1960s was a time of experimentation, as a diverse team of scientists sent a man to the moon for the whole world to see. The astronauts, though, weren’t the only people getting high – LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, began steadily growing in popularity. Marijuana, a perceived danger on the American consciousness, became a focal point with the a generation of young, middle-class people sometimes called hippies, and their counterparts, beatniks. Both drugs were strongly associated with community, and acknowledgement and embrace of one’s sense of self. Whatever their purpose in the lives of individuals, however, both drugs were condemned, and made illegal. Also new to the market was a synthetic drug, MDMA, or XTC. XTC was originally created and utilized as a supplement to psychotherapy, aimed at married couples in therapy. The effects of the drug include happiness and arousal, two side effects that would and could have possibly helped a couple facing divorce. Before the drug underwent sufficient research to prove or disprove its usefulness as a therapy drug, the federal government banned it, and production moved underground. Alcohol and tobacco use continued to rise as new generations became addicted to the seemingly safe, legal drugs.


marijuana plant

The drug landscape was already riddled with LSD, marijuana (which experienced a near-doubling in use during this time), tobacco, and alcohol. During the 70s, though, the prescription drugs containing meth were finally pulled from shelves. While this clearly didn’t stop the number of users from rising, it did give way to more publicly-available information concerning the dangers of the drug. Without having it readily available, small operations began to crop up in the United States, dedicated to manufacturing meth in a home, or lab. The manufacturers, though, were typically biker gangs that could not afford to purchase another highly-sought after drug that remains popular to this day – cocaine. Cocaine was expensive, and difficult to get, but meth provided a comparable high, and was quick, and easy to get and make. While small operations started here and there throughout the 1970s, alcohol and cigarette addiction, though steady, finally began to garner attention for the negative health effects. By this time, cigarette packs came with warning labels, and were not allowed to be sold without them. Alcoholics Anonymous had been known to mainstream society as a treatment option for a number of years, though it continued to be underutilized, and attendees suffered from the stigma. Also significant was the creation of Nixon’s DEA – Drug Enforcement Administration – created specifically to track and crack down on drug use in the United States.


The 1980s was another transformative period for the American drug scene. Small, United States-based meth production operations lost most of their power to Mexico, who easily discovered that the United States had a vast population of people hungry for addictive drugs. Despite security measures, meth and marijuana poured across the border in the 1980s, and continue to come across to this day. The influx of these two drugs was felt strongly across urban and rural America, with young teens facing scrutiny for smoking marijuana, and meth making its way deep into the United States, reaching Appalachia, New York, and Canada. Wealthier young white people began using cocaine, despite the stereotype of a black male cocaine fiend. At this time, a crack epidemic hit the black communities in New York City, causing rifts in families and quickly filling jails. Instead of receiving effective treatment, however, most of the users served their time, and found themselves right back out on the streets, looking for the next high. The lack of effective treatment for poor people who became addicted to crack cocaine and meth resulted in difficult financial and educational times for the inner city and Appalachia. When hard rock and metal exploded on the music scene, cocaine, marijuana, and meth joined.     

During the 1990s, and into the early 2000s, the opioid crisis drove a new wave of addiction. Heroin and meth, both dangerous and extremely addictive, became more and more popular as drugs continued to pour in from across the border, and new crops of labs all over the United States fueled a national addiction.