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Alcoholism in America

, 384 pages
April 2009



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Alcoholism in America

From Reconstruction to Prohibition

Despite the lack of medical consensus regarding alcoholism as a disease, many people readily accept the concept of addiction as a clinical as well as a social disorder. An alcoholic is a victim of social circumstance and genetic destiny. Although one might imagine that this dual approach is a reflection of today's enlightened and sympathetic society, historian Sarah Tracy discovers that efforts to medicalize alcoholism are anything but new.

Alcoholism in America tells the story of physicians, politicians, court officials, and families struggling to address the danger of excessive alcohol consumption at the turn of the century. Beginning with the formation of the American Association for the Cure of Inebriates in 1870 and concluding with the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, this study examines the effect of the disease concept on individual drinkers and their families and friends, as well as the ongoing battle between policymakers and the professional medical community for jurisdiction over alcohol problems. Tracy captures the complexity of the political, professional, and social negotiations that have characterized the alcoholism field both yesterday and today.

Tracy weaves American medical history, social history, and the sociology of knowledge into a narrative that probes the connections among reform movements, social welfare policy, the specialization of medicine, and the social construction of disease. Her insights will engage all those interested in America's historic and current battles with addiction.

Sarah W. Tracy is a Reach for Excellence Associate Professor, Honors College, University of Oklahoma.

"Fascinating. Tracy's book tells a compelling and revelatory story."

"Any reader interested in the subjects of alcoholism or addiction will find it worthwhile. "

"A pathbreaking argument about what medicalization meant for patients as well as doctors and, more generally, American culture."

"Essential reading for any clinician with a historical bent. This valuable monograph traces the tension between moralism and science in the understanding of alcoholism."

"Tracy sets a new standard of sophistication in this lucid exposition of alcohol as 'a complicated cultural signifier.'"

"One of the signal achievements of Alcoholism in America is its thorough historicization of modern understandings of alcohol abuse."

"Outstanding. This work combines one of the finest surveys of the alcoholism field for this period with some of the best institutional research I've seen. Tracy's command of the inebriety and alcoholism field is unrivaled."

"Offers historical insight into the sources and solutions to alcohol-related problems... This book will find many appreciative audiences."

"Meticulous and smart... An important contribution to the field of alcohol and temperance history."

"This excellent volume reworks intellectual territory opened up in the 1970s and 1980s by members of the Alcohol Research Group."

"The most interesting aspect of the book is her analysis of the complex mix of medical and moral considerations that informed the approach to alcoholism over the period."

"Tells new and important histories of people's efforts to find a cure for themselves or others and provides examples of heartbreaking failures. Her book enriches our reading of reform in this period."

"[Tracy's] fine book illuminates a neglected and often misunderstood chapter in the history of alcohol and alcoholism."

"This is an excellent book... full of interesting case studies, anecdotes and historical insights. It is well worth reading by all of those who have an interest in the way in which we currently construe alcohol policy, and is a brimful of reminders that we are regularly in danger of reinventing the heel unless we carefully study the history of this ubiquitous and puzzling problem."

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