Why Was Prohibition Unsuccessful?

Alcohol has what doctors call a depressive effect on your system. It slows down brain function and changes the way your nerves send messages back and forth. Excessive drinking excites and irritates the nervous system. If you drink daily, your body becomes dependent on alcohol over time. When this happens, your central nervous system can no longer adapt easily to the lack of alcohol.

Since the nineteenth century, some had argued that alcohol crippled a person’s character, destroyed and put a strain on families, but more people in jails ruined moral sensibilities, and physical vitality, and brought millions to poverty, misery, and premature death.

Why Was Prohibition Unsuccessful?

Why Was There a Prohibition on Alcohol?

Prohibition was mainly brought about to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.

There were a few main reasons why Prohibition didn’t last longer than thirteen years and was lifted in 1933. Let’s go over the main points on why there was a Prohibition on alcohol sales and consumption in the United States.

Illegal Activity

Although the consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it soon increased. Prohibition opened the door for an organized crime involving the smuggling and bootlegging of alcohol into the country. Speakeasies became very common, and bribery of law officials became very common.  The court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point, and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.

The Great Depression

When the Great Depression hit, the amount of money the government collected from income tax decreased significantly. To make up for this deficit, Prohibition was repealed so alcohol could be taxed.


The Volstead Act and 18th Amendment included clauses that allowed alcohol for religious and medicinal purposes. So, therefore, synagogue and congregational membership and prescriptions for alcohol skyrocketed.

Lack of Enforcement

Some states simply refused to enforce the 18th Amendment, while other states were unable to enforce due to widespread corruption and because so many people disregarded the law.

Prohibition Lead to An Increase in Drinking

Prohibition changes the way people drank. It encouraged the popularity of the cocktail as a mark of modern sophistication by encouraging mixers that disguised the foul taste of low-quality spirits. The drinking started to happen in other places than just at the dinner table. People brought it into the public world, and women joined men at speakeasies and nightclubs. Alcoholic beverages accompanied college men and women on their dates.

Even Americans who didn’t want anyone seeing them drinking alcohol near their hometowns were more willing to do so far from home. American tourists looked for destinations like Miami and Havana when traveling, where alcoholic beverages were readily available.

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (NCBI), The Prohibition Era was unkind to habitual drunkards, not because their supply was cut off, but because it was not. Those who wanted liquor badly enough could still find it. But those who recognized their drinking as destructive were not so lucky in finding help.

The inebriety asylums had closed, and the self-help societies had withered away. In 1935, these conditions gave birth to a new self-help group, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the approach taken by these innovative reformers, while drawing from the old self-help tradition, was profoundly influenced by the experience of Prohibition.

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