Did people in the United States drink more alcohol after it became legal in 1933? Or was it the same? And how was it before it become illegal to drink in 1920?

  • 2
    Could you clarify "And how was it"? How was what?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 15:08
  • Alcohol was never illegal to drink, only to manufacture.
    – Barry
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


Consumption appeared to rise enormously after Prohibition was ended. After looking at several graphs, this one seems to agree with most: enter image description here

As always, pick sources with care.

  • Looking at the graph, consumption was high in the 1900-1910 period, and then dropped off. It makes me wonder how social changes conspired to make something that was previously popular to being illegal just a few years later. Also note that it wasn't just illegal but Constitutionally illegal - using that mechanism is probably the hardest way to make something illegal, yet they did it. And then they passed another amendment later to unravel the first one. Were Constitutional amendments cheap back then?
    – Smith
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 15:52
  • 1
    Note that this graph only appears to have data for legal alcohol. Hence the dotted lines during prohibition. It strikes me that if the black-market alcohol didn't turn off like a switch on repeal, but rather tapered off over a few years, that sharp uptick you're seeing for a few years after prohibition might be an artifact as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:12
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Agreed that I don't trust the dotted line during Prohibition. I think the author just tried to connect the dots on either side of the data void.
    – Smith
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 17:13
  • 1
    How would it even be possible to find accurate data for consumption during a period when it was illegal? Do you really think people making a bunch of bathtub gin filed reports?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 20:06
  • 1
    So according to this graph, prohibition actually worked and reduced alcohol consuption drastically ? But then why is there the widespread agreement that prohibition was a complete failure ?!
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:10

Alcohol consumption increased after 1933 for at least two reasons, as shown in a graph put up by another poster.

There was a lot of "pent up demand" on the part of people who wanted to drink during the 1920s but was afraid to, because of the law.

Women had "learned" to drink in large numbers during the 1920s. That's because women accompanied men (initially as chaperones, later as customers in their own right) to "speakeasies" that technically were not drinking establishments, because they were unlicensed before Prohibition. This was particularly true for wine, less so for other forms of liquor.

  • FGITW - I was going to mention the dramatic change in social mores, due to prohibition making it "acceptable*" for a woman to drink in public. but you beat me to it. Simply put, before prohibition only two classes of women drank in public: professionals and actresses; and much of society refused to distinguish between the two career paths. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 20:50
  • 1
    Groucho Marx mentions that he had not had a drink prior to Prohibition (he was born in 1890 iirc) -- Prohibition made drinking fashionable/exciting.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 7:55
  • If that's true, then doesn't it mean that drinking actually stayed low after prohibition? If women weren't drinking before prohibition, but they were drinking after prohibition, and drinks per capita stayed the same before and after, then the people who were drinking were drinking half as much.
    – Shane
    Commented Jan 2 at 3:49

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