Mad Men & The Evolution Of The Drinking Culture

In the same way that public awareness has changed society’s behavior regarding cigarette smoking, America’s consumption of alcohol is also evolving. The AMC Network show “Mad Men,” which revolved around the life of Don Draper, an executive at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the ’60s, shined a spotlight on the bygone culture of acceptable workplace drinking and alcoholism.

Mad Men Drinking Culture

Real life “mad man” and author, Jerry Della Femina, told National Public Radio (NPR), “In those days, [at] a typical lunch, the bartender would be shaking the martinis as we walked in,” adding that they’d have three martinis before food arrived, along with two bottles of wine for the table of course. These days, Della Femina joked, a martini with lunch would end with him in an ambulance.

How Have Drinking Attitudes Changed Since the 1960s?

While attitudes about drinking might not have changed as much as we’d like to believe, the following statistics show that there has been some progress in how society views alcohol dependency and addiction:

  • In 1960, 12 percent of Americans felt that alcohol caused troubles in their family. Today, 30 percent of people blame alcohol for family problems
  • 39 states and Washington, D.C. have open-container laws, which prohibit alcohol from being consumed in vehicles. 11 states still have open-container laws that do not meet federal requirements
  • Drunk driving campaigns, which started in the late ’70s and gained momentum in the 1980s, have decreased the amount of alcohol related driving fatalities, though the number still hovers near 10,000 a year

Bar Napkin

On “Mad Men,” the show’s protagonist, Don Draper, played by John Hamm, who spent 30 days in a real-life rehab before the premiere of the last season of the show, drinks a lot. One website that tracked the character’s drinking, in season six alone, found that Draper consumed the equivalent of 164 drinks and that 60 percent of the time, he drank by himself. Among all the character’s drinking to excess on the show, only one was portrayed as an alcoholic who sought help and got sober.

1960s Bar Napkin

The habit of midday drinking by executives and others, known as “three-martini lunches,” hit a steep decline in the late ’80s and again in the ’90s when the entertainment and business meal tax deductions got dropped to 50 percent. Now, employers can potentially face worker’s compensation fines for serving alcohol to an employee who’s visibly intoxicated at an office holiday party.

Drinking in the Sixties

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimates that out of the millions of full time employees in the U.S., close to 15 million are heavy drinkers. In fact, federal surveys have shown that 24 percent of workers admit to drinking during the workday at least once in the past year. Aside from the debilitating emotional toll alcoholism and drug addiction has on individuals and their families, the financial costs are also high.

Vintage Bar Napkin

What are the Problems of Drinking on the Job?

  • Poor productivity
  • Increase of absenteeism and sick leave
  • Higher rates of employee turnover
  • Increase in workplace accidents and fatalities

Though drinking on the job is less acceptable than the time period that the show “Mad Men” portrays, society still faces this problem. The stigma surrounding alcoholism and drug abuse is not as great as it once was, and many employers have rehab programs in place that employees can access instead of losing their job outright. Addiction is complex and challenging, but with treatment, understanding and support, anyone can recover.

Note: The images on this page are an actual bar napkin from the 1960s that was found while digging through an old trunk filled with vintage memorabilia.

Related:

What Can Be Done About Drug & Alcohol Use at Work?

Do House Calls for Hangovers Enable Alcoholics?

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Treatment for Alcohol Dependence and Abuse

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Mad Men & The Evolution Of The Drinking Culture
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Mad Men & The Evolution Of The Drinking Culture
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Society's attitude regarding cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption has changed a lot since the days of this vintage bar napkin from the 1960s.
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Inspire Malibu
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