Substance Abuse in America

A Documentary and Reference Guide

by James A. Swartz


In the mid to late 19th century, "patent medicines" typically containing large proportions of alcohol and fortified with cocaine, heroin, morphine, or opium were commonly available. In the 1960s, a different kind of drug abuse became widespread in America. Today, despite decades of concerted efforts to control or eradicate illicit drug use in the United States, illegal and dangerous drugs remain easy to obtain, and substance abuse is still a pervasive problem.

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Cover image for Substance Abuse in America

August 2012


Pages 333
Volumes 1
Size 8 1/2x11
Topics Health & Wellness/Addiction and Substance Abuse

This book provides a comprehensive overview of drug policy in the United States from the early 1900s through the present day, providing historical and social context through the telling of the colorful and often tragic stories of the events and individuals throughout this period.

Substance Abuse in America: A Documentary and Reference Guide examines the history of U.S. drug policy chronologically, from the early 1900s through the current day, covering topics such as patent medicines, Prohibition, Reefer Madness, the psychedelic '60s, Nixon's War on Drugs, and the powerful warring Mexican drug cartels that currently threaten political instability in that country.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of U.S. drug policy that will fascinate general readers and benefit those in the field of substance abuse treatment or policy. Each chapter includes an analysis of a primary source document that serves to illuminate drug policy in America at a particular point in time as well as the reasons for the waxing and waning popularity of various drugs. The author provides accurate historical context that explains perceptions about substance abuse in American history, and draws compelling parallels across different time periods to show that much of what may seem new and unique for the present generation actually has a historical precedent.


  • Suggestions for further readering are provided with each chapter, including books and book chapters, articles in the popular press, government documents, and links to Internet resources


  • Interprets original documents that range from newspaper accounts of current events to the documents that determined America's drug policy over the last century
  • Highlights the lives of dominant personalities and colorful characters who have strongly influenced America's drug policy
  • Places each change in drug policy within its historical and cultural contexts to help readers understand how the policy came about
Series Description

Documentary and Reference Guides

What does the U.S. Constitution really say about the right to bear arms? The controversy surrounding this single issue illustrates how important documents are to understanding history--and how they can be open to interpretation. How can students best understand the impact and nuances of the documents that frame America’s story?

Expertly chosen primary source documents, analytical commentary, and comprehensive study resources present Americans grappling directly with complex social and political issues in ways that have had a deep and lasting impact on contemporary society.

Students often are unaware that hotly contested public debates have deep historical roots. Intended to allow readers to engage with history and discover the development of controversial social and political issues over time, the Documentary and Reference Guides series introduces such issues through carefully chosen primary source documents.

The documents analyzed in these volumes encourage critical thinking, offering fresh perspectives as they sweep away preconceptions and restore immediacy to debates that may have become stale. They encourage students to explore for themselves how important issues came to be framed as they are and to consider how contemporary discussion might advance beyond the assumptions and hardened positions of the past.


  •  Offers primary source documents--well known and less so--that are most important for understanding a given issue, selected and analyzed by subject-area specialists
  •  Presents document headnotes, text, and analysis in a consistent manner, making the book easy for readers to navigate
  •  Steers students and general readers to the most useful and reliable sources for further information, whether print, electronic, multimedia, or institutional resources


  •  50-100 primary source documents, topically and chronologically organized, including excerpts from legislation, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, manifestos, broadcast statements, controversial writings such as Thomas Paine's pamphlets and excerpts from the Federalist Papers, and personal writings, such as letters
  •  15-25 photographs
  •  Accessible analysis sections and lively sidebars illuminating documents that are crucial to the subject, but relatively legalistic or technical
  •  A Reader's Guide to the Documents and Sidebars, organized by subject, to enable readers to pursue particular lines of inquiry through more than one chapter
  •  A comprehensive, annotated, general resources section supporting student research needs
Author Info

James A. Swartz, PhD, is associate professor in the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University, Chicago, IL. He also holds a master's degree in psychological research from Loyola University and a bachelor's degree in pre-professional studies from the University of Notre Dame. His published works include over 50 publications on substance abuse-related issues, such as co-occurring psychiatric disorders and HIV/AIDS, in peer-reviewed journals. Swartz recently edited a collection of papers published in book form as Drugs, Women, and Justice: Roles of the Criminal Justice System for Drug-Affected Women. His interest in drug policy began when he worked as the director of research at Illinois' Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities program, an agency that provides case management to substance abusing criminal justice clients.



"Rarely is a book as useful for advanced researchers as for undergraduates, but Substance Abuse in America is such a book. . . . The well-written introduction concisely summarizes early laws; Prohibition; the role of the nation's first drug czar, Harry Anslinger; the beginnings of the misuse of prescription drugs; and current problems. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"This volume will appeal to a wide range of users, both those searching for historical documents on U.S. substance abuse as well as the more popular and controversial topics today of America's current drug policies and was on drugs. Undergraduates or those interested in an overview of the history of this ongoing debate may find this compilation useful."—ARBA

"Read cover-to-cover, this presents a panoramic view of America’s response to drugs and drug addiction."—Booklist

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