A History of America’s Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers
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Readable, informative account of how cultural, economic and political forces have shaped the way Americans address anxiety.

Tone (Social History of Medicine/McGill Univ.; Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, 2001, etc.) draws on FDA reports, congressional investigations, court cases, popular media, interviews and letters to uncover the history of American’s love-hate relationship with tranquilizers. While Miltown, the first of the “minor tranquilizers” (as distinguished from antipsychotics and neuroleptics), did not appear on the market until 1955, the author sets the stage with a brief history of barbiturate use and the place of Freudian talk therapy in popular thinking earlier in the century. The entertainment world’s fascination with the new pill—Milton Berle started calling himself “Uncle Miltown”—and glowing coverage in the media led to middle-class acceptance of and demand for it. Pharmaceutical marketing built a base among prescribing physicians and sales boomed. Miltown seemed the chic answer to the anxieties of an edgy, duck-and-cover society attracted to quick-fix remedies. Pharmaceutical companies rushed to develop rival pills; Librium and Valium appeared in 1960 and 1963. By the ’70s, as Tone documents, concerns about dependence and side effects were growing, enthusiasm and candor about tranquilizer use were replaced by skepticism and secrecy and government concern took the form of hearings and labeling requirements. Sales declined with the rise of the consumer-health movement and concerns about the counterculture’s use of recreational drugs, but then came a new class of anti-depression drugs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Prozac in 1987, followed by Paxil, Zoloft and others. As the mass marketing of pharmaceutical panaceas publicized anxiety disorders, critics claimed that ordinary social problems were being medicalized, citing as evidence the retooling of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Anxiety disorders are now a growth industry, the author notes, and the tensions of modern American life suggest that tranquilizers will continue to have loyal legions.

Untangles the variety of complex factors that have shaped Americans’ increasing use of tranquilizers amid conflicting attitudes toward them.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-465-08658-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2009


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