The History of Alcohol and Drug Use Among United States Presidents

Everyone has a past, and United States presidents are no exception. When it comes to a history of drugs and alcohol, some former U.S. presidents have closer associations than others. For example, people of a certain age will remember when Bill Clinton stated that he’d “never broken a state law, but when I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it and never tried it again.” George W. Bush and Barack Obama also publicly admitted to using marijuana during a time when all marijuana use was illegal.  Book.html

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Our first president, George Washington, dealt with chronic pain and used laudanum, an opiate, to cope. Many historians believe that John F. Kennedy was treated with narcotics to treat pain caused by Addison’s Disease.  

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Alcohol is a ubiquitous drug, and despite being illegal in the U.S. during Prohibition, it is certain that many U.S. presidents throughout history drank alcohol, at least occasionally. George W. Bush, who served as president from 2001 to 2009, reportedly gave up alcohol after a “wild drunken weekend” celebrating his 40th birthday. He was also arrested for drunk driving in 1976. Barack Obama, too, admitted that he used drugs like pot and alcohol to take his mind off his strained relationship with his father

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At the other end of the spectrum, some former U.S. presidents were known for abstaining entirely from drugs and alcohol. Rutherford B. Hayes, who served as president from 1877 to 1881, not only abstained from alcohol and smoking, but he did also not allow any smoking or drinking in the White House. 

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U.S. presidents past and present live their lives under a microscope, so we cannot be 100 percent sure of who did or did not struggle with addiction or substance abuse disorder. What we do know is that excessive drug and alcohol use, even among our country’s leaders, is not necessarily rare.  

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