Even today, debate about the impact of Prohibition rages. Critics argue that the amendment failed to eliminate drinking, made drinking more popular among the young, spawned organized crime and disrespect for the law, encouraged solitary drinking, and led beer drinkers to hard liquor and cocktails. One wit joked that “Prohibition succeeded in replacing good beer with bad gin.” The lesson these critics derive: it is counterproductive to try to legislate morality.
Opponents argue that alcohol consumption declined dramatically during Prohibition–by 30 to 50 percent. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver for men fell from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929.
Was Prohibition a “noble experiment” or a misguided effort to use government to shape morality? Even today, the answer is not entirely clear. Alcohol remains a serious cause of death, disability, and domestic abuse. It was not until the 1960s that alcohol consumption levels returned to their pre-Prohibition levels. Today, alcohol is linked each year to more than 23,000 motor vehicle deaths and to more than half the nation’s homicides, and is closely linked to domestic violence.