The History of Alcohol and Drug use Among United States Presidents
The history of alcohol and drug use among United States presidents is a complex topic, especially since some drugs that are now illegal were legal at different points in this country’s history. For example, in the late 1800s, many over-the-counter remedies had large amounts of cocaine in them. Even with that caveat, some presidents indulged more than others.
George Washington (1789-1797)
At his home on Mount Vernon, George Washington grew hemp, which is a relative of marijuana but is not intoxicating by itself. Some reports say that he used laudanum, which was an opiate derivative, to alleviate the tremendous discomfort of his many dental problems. Laudanum was legal and widely used during Washington’s lifetime. Washington reportedly enjoyed Madeira wine.
John Adams (1797-1801)
John Adams was known to enjoy alcohol, including beer, wine, and rum. However, there is no evidence that he did so to excess.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Unsubstantiated reports suggest the Thomas Jefferson grew poppy, from which opium is derived, at his Monticello mansion. He used quinine to help relieve his frequent headaches, and he may have used opium for the treatment of diarrhea.
James Madison (1809-1817)
James Madison was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
James Monroe (1817-1825)
James Monroe was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
John Quincy Adams was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
Andrew Jackson was not known to drink excessively or use drugs, though he once said, “Doctor, I can do anything you think proper, except give up coffee and tobacco.”
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
Martin Van Buren drank so much that his nickname was Blue Whiskey Van.
William H. Harrison (1841)
William H. Harrison did not drink at all — he completely abstained from alcohol throughout his life.
John Tyler (1841-1845)
John Tyler was not known to drink excessively; however, he did treat himself with calomel, a toxic compound that contains mercury.
James K. Polk (1841-1849)
James K. Polk was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
Zachary Taylor abstained from alcohol addiction.
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Millard Fillmore was notoriously concerned about health issues; he neither smoked nor drank.
Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Franklin Pierce drank a lot. His heavy drinking was well known; when his term of presidency was over, he said: “There is nothing left… but to get drunk.”
James Buchanan (1857-1861)
James Buchanan was a heavy drinker. He reportedly could drink several bottles of alcohol in the course of an evening. He was known to hold his liquor very well and did not exhibit the characteristics of an alcoholic.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
Abraham Lincoln was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Andrew Johnson is sometimes reported to have been a drunk; however, this is not so. The misconception comes from the day that he was inaugurated as vice president. He had a few drinks before the inauguration and was drunk during it. However, there are no other reports of incidents in which he was drunk. It seems likely that he was drunk at the inauguration because he was an infrequent drinker and didn’t realize how much the alcohol would affect him.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Ulysses S Grant was not known to use drugs, but he did smoke a great deal. During one battle of the Civil War, it was said that he smoked twenty cigars in one day. Grant also was reported to be a heavy drinker. Eventually, Grant died of throat cancer.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
Rutherford B. Hayes was a notorious teetotaler, and he allowed no smoking or drinking in the White House.
James A. Garfield (1881)
James A. Garfield was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
Chester A. Arthur was a heavy drinker, and it affected his health.
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)
Grover Cleveland reportedly drank four to eight beers a day, and his stomach showed it.
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
Benjamin Harrison was not known to be a drinker or drug user, but he was treated for nervous breakdown with quinine, strychnine, and iron.
William McKinley (1897-1901)
William McKinley was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
William H. Taft (1909-1913)
Taft was the teetotaler, though he did eat a great deal.
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Woodrow Wilson was not known to drink excessively or use drugs. He did veto the prohibition act in 1919; however, it was passed regardless.
Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
Warren G Harding was not known to drink excessively or use drugs. The prohibition was in effect while he was president.
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Calvin Coolidge was not known to drink excessively or use drugs. The prohibition was in effect while he was president.
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Herbert Hoover was not known to drink excessively or use drugs, though he did smoke cigars. The prohibition was in effect while he was president.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
Franklin D Roosevelt did drink, though it is unclear how much. His favorite drink was said to be scotch or brandy. During his presidency, prohibition was repealed.
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
Harry S Truman drank in moderation, and he preferred wine and bourbon.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Dwight D. Eisenhower was not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
John F. Kennedy took testosterone to treat his Addison’s disease, but not for recreational purposes. Some associates of Kennedy say that he used LSD and marijuana. He also enjoyed cigar smoking, and he did drink. It should be noted that Kennedy’s father made most of the family fortune during prohibition by selling bootleg liquor.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Lyndon B. Johnson was a social drinker and was not known to use drugs.
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
Richard M. Nixon was a frequent drinker, particularly in the evening. There are conflicting reports about Nixon’s supposed use of the drug phenytoin, an anti-seizure drug sometimes sold as Dilantin. He allegedly received the drug from a friend, but his family disputes that he ever used it.
Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
Gerald Ford was a social drinker, and he reportedly favored gin and tonic. He also smoked eight pipes of tobacco a day.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Jimmy Carter is not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Reagan drank only occasionally and in small amounts. He had been a smoker, but quit when his brother developed cancer.
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
George H.W. Bush is not known to drink excessively or use drugs.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
At the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was some debate about his reported use of marijuana as a young man. He insisted that while he did smoke it, he did not inhale. There are rumors that Clinton used cocaine at some point, but those are unverified.
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
Though George W. Bush was not known to drink excessively or use drugs while in office, there was some controversy about his behavior as a young man before he was president. He was known to drink heavily in his youth, and he is reported to have used cocaine prior to 1974. In 1999, he had reportedly had no alcohol for the preceding thirteen years.
Barack H. Obama (2009-Present)
Barack H. Obama is not known to drink excessively or use drugs. However, as a young man, he reportedly used marijuana and cocaine and at times drank heavily. He used to smoke, but reportedly quit after promising his wife he would do so before his run for president in 2008.