Mad Men’ & Drugs: What The Show Taught Us About Addiction in the 1960s

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Mad Men’ & Drugs: What The Show Taught Us About Addiction in the 1960s

After eight years of critical success and its mark on television history, AMC’s 1960s advertising drama ‘Mad Men’ is finally came to a close in 2015. Throughout the show’s chaotic yet singularly-focused narrative, the audience saw a copious amount of cavalier smoking, drinking, and sex. It was almost as if the creator intended to make the audience believe that such behaviors defined an era that we were always meant to believe was much more conservative and buttoned-up. This assertion can be further supported by the appetites of some of the show’s key players, most notably the main character Don Draper. Keep scrolling to learn more about ‘Mad Men,’ drugs, and what substance abuse was really like in the 1960s.

Jon Hamm & Alcohol Abuse: The High Cost of Being Don Draper

The actor who played Draper, Jon Hamm, checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse, citing his role as Draper as a contributing factor to his downward spiral. In an interview with Variety Magazine, Hamm claimed that having to live inside the head of Draper (an alcoholic, morally flawed, womanizing advertising executive) had a significant emotional impact on him.

Hamm even went so far as to say that he wanted to distance himself from similar roles going forward in his career. Hamm has managed to create a diverse body of work away from ‘Mad Men’ in which he has showcased his talents in more light-hearted roles.

While it’s not rare that a role can so deeply and profoundly affect the actor playing it, we must also question how much of Hamm’s issues and family history contributed to his alcohol abuse. However, if what he is saying is accurate, it speaks to the impact of the show not just on the audience but also on those who have been working on the series since it began.

Creator Matt Weiner readily admits that Draper’s character development has taken him down a darker and darker path. Hamm confessed that eight years of being Don Draper just took a lot out of him emotionally.

A Look Into the Past Through ‘Mad Men’: How Society Viewed 1960s Drugs

It’s hard to say that the evolution of substance abuse treatment has been an easy or ever-forward one. When talking about Mad Men’s depiction of drugs in the 1960s and the culture behind it, one expert said that in the 60s bad behavior from heavy or binge drinking was considered macho and even romantic. ‘Mad Men’ takes place in a time when addiction was commonly either met with scorn and ridicule or swept under the rug.

Additionally, heavy drinking was considered common among men, and a drinking problem wasn’t really a problem. In fact, there was an expectation of men to be stronger than chemical dependency and be able to perform at work and at home despite substance use. A series that has been widely celebrated for its historical accuracy, one of the principal themes of ‘Mad Men’ has been the progressive unabashed drinking in professional and social settings.

In one of the series’ more memorable nods to alcohol addiction, the character Freddy Rumsen was sent to rehab after urinating on himself while he was drunk. In addition to the occasional allusions to addiction among the constant excess of alcohol throughout the show, the question of whether Don Draper is an alcoholic becomes a dominant part of the storyline that consistently reemerges from the fourth season on. Credit must be afforded to the series for depicting alcoholism as it was perceived during that time against the reality of what we know today.

The 1960s: A Progressive Decade for Addiction Treatment

Something that wasn’t mentioned about drug use in ‘Mad Men’ was the decade’s changes in addiction treatment. In the past 55 years, treatment and careers in addiction recovery have seen some significant and much-needed changes. The 1960s saw some of the most notable of these changes.

The decade started with the landmark publication of E.M Jellinek’s The Disease Concept of Alcoholism.2 This was followed in 1961 by a joint report from the American Bar Association and American Medical Association entitled Drug Addiction: Crime or Disease, which called for community-based treatment programs.

As the decade progressed, we saw the American Psychiatric Association urge health insurance companies to start covering alcoholism treatment and insurance companies complied. It can be argued that the 1960s was the starting point of institutional recognition of alcoholism as a disease.

‘Mad Men’ & Drugs: The Show’s Lasting Legacy

‘Mad Men’ will always be indicative of a time in which people suffered in silence while progressivism lurked just around the corner. From an addiction standpoint, this means that people weren’t necessarily allowed to admit they had a problem, or they would lose their friends, their careers, and their pride.

This conflict was personified perhaps nowhere better than in Don Draper’s alcoholism and prolonged torment, walking the fine line between masculinity and composure and a desperate addiction, sometimes pulling it off and sometimes falling apart. In any case, it would have been interesting to see how the Don Drapers of the world would have fared after rehab. By their hardened personality and their denial of needing help, we will likely never know.

Still, even today, there exists a negative stigma against addicts – where many still easily believe that addiction is simply a choice and that a victim must have been a dangerous individual, anyhow – shows like ‘Mad Men’ help us recognize that we have come a long way in speaking openly about drug addiction.

Children of the ’60s Are the Addicts of Today

As senior citizens are becoming the fastest-growing segment in the country, we’re seeing a resurgence of the stoic patient that once thought treatment in no way helped or that it was somehow unnecessary. Many of these patients come from a time in which people tried to deal with problems on their own no matter who they were. This growth in elderly drug addiction has proven time and again that chemical dependency is not a matter of willpower and requires not only the assistance of others but expert help.


Our Banyan Lake Worth Rehab Can Help

The team of specialists at our Lake Worth drug rehab is committed to offering compassion to stigmatized addicts and to providing quality addiction care to our patients. We, too, have come a long way: offering a comprehensive spectrum of treatment from intervention to detox to rehab to aftercare, we have become one of the nation’s leading addiction treatment organizations.

In addition to our wide range of levels of addiction treatment, we offer a specific alcohol rehab program for people with alcohol use disorders.


If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, call Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches today at 561-220-3981 to learn more about our BHOPB detox and substance abuse services.


Related Reading:

What to Do If Someone Is Suicidal and Refuses Help

What to Do Instead of Drinking (& Also Help Your Recovery)

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