Don Draper Problem Drinker

Don Draper Drinking Mad Men

While Alcoholics Anonymous tells us “we are only as sick as our secrets” it’s no secret that Mad Men’s Don Draper enjoys a drink every now and again… and again… and again.

While actor Jon Hamm has just successfully completed a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse, it hard to imagine the same fate for Don Draper who has long been waging a battle with booze.

One line of dialogue we are doubtful to hear this final season of Mad Men is the handsome ad executive standing up in 12 step meeting at Hazelden soberly stating: “My name is Don Draper and I’m an Alcoholic.”

During the 3 martini lunch era that defined Mad Men , not only were rehabs less available to those suffering alcoholism, the cultural denial about the disease allowed old stereotypes about “problem drinkers” to linger.

It wasn’t hard for Don to be in denial about his excess drinking.

An Alcoholic…Who Me?

Because he is a functioning alcoholic, he contradicted the conventional wisdom of who an alcoholic was.

Impeccably groomed in his smartly tailored suits, dapper Don certainly didn’t fit the stereotypical skid row model, the down on their luck deviant, chronically unemployed, living in squalor on the edges of society that defined a real alcoholic.

In his swanky Park Avenue digs far removed from the bowels of the  Bowery, Draper wasn’t downing his Johnny Walker Black from a brown paper bag. No sir, it was Baccarat cut crystal for him.

The problem drinker stigmatized as a “loser, one step away from a life of crime,” sure wasn’t successful ad man Don Draper.

Although by the 1950’s the AMA recognized alcoholism as disease, these hackneyed notions persisted.

Problem Drinkers

Health Alcoholism March Of Time Problem Drinkers

Vintage poster for “Problem Drinkers” 1946. The March of Time was a newsreel and radio program that dramatized and reported on news of the week. The newsreels were shown in movie theaters from 1935 to 1951

Several years earlier in 1946,  a year before a young Dick Whitman would become of legal drinking age, a groundbreaking March of Time newsreel was shown in movie theaters that explored the growing problem of alcoholism in America.

More importantly, the newsreel entitled “The Problem Drinker” attempted to show that alcoholics were just like everyone else. They were parents, friends workers, brothers; they held down jobs have friends.

A portrait of an American family man coming to terms with his alcoholism by seeking help from Alcoholics Anonymous, the film emphasized that alcoholics are not bad people but have an addiction beyond their control.

Despite its attempts to get people to reconsider old stereotypes of alcoholics, the predictable  stereotypes lingered for decades.


Vintage ad March of Time Problem Drinkers  man on phone

The newsreel Problem Drinkers “turned to a relatively new organization that seems to have great success in helping alcoholics beat the habit -Alcoholic Anonymous” which had a starring turn in the newsreel. Vintage ad for Problem Drinkers 1946

With great fanfare, a full-page ad ran in Life Magazine announcing the June premiere of an important March of Time feature, “The Problem Drinker.”


The ad copy came complete with “retro emojis,”  little drawings of  alcoholic drinks place strategically among the text for emphasis.

Maybe he’s someone you know. Maybe he’s a neighbor or a chap from the office or a fellow you knew from the service. A good guy – except! How do you feel about him? Is his problem his business, his family’s, the government’s?

Should he be punished or coddled?…Can he be cured”?

In this forceful new film March of Time shows you in action the many ways in which Americas fourth largest public health menace is being tackled. For example, you’ve often heard of “Alcoholics Anonymous:” here you’ll see how AA works – in the dramatic story of one mans battle against alcoholism.

This picture pulls no punches, speaks straight to everyone who has ever worried about someone who “can’t leave it alone.

Perhaps if Dick Whitmam had watched the newsreel and taken the advise to seek help instead of turning to the bottle to deal with his dark past, Don Draper’s life might have turned out quite differently.

Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved









  1. Shonna Valeska

    well, this hits me like a giant punch in my tum-tum. This is important for every drinker, no mater if it’s one or more per night, to read and explore. Thank you Sal-Gal xoxoxoxo


    http://WWW.SHONNAVALESKA.COM 347.834.6000


  2. One of the best portraits of an alcoholic is Ray Milland in “The Lost Weekend”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rays Milland’s portrait of an alcoholic during a weekend bender in NYC would put any alcoholic to shame. From hiding booze bottles in ceiling lights to ending up in a straight jacket in the Bellvue drunk tank with the DDT’s, shrieking in terror, it was a haunting portrait.


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