Originally Posted by Clothahump
Not so much for those reasons; people drank more because they didn't have clean water. The boiling and fermentation process killed off germs, which is why light levels of alcohol ("small beer", etc.) were so popular.
Nitpick: primarily going off of UK history here, but low alcohol levels were never popular. Small beer was for servants, brewed from the leavings of the regular beer; think reusing the same coffee grounds for a second pot. We have records from the major breweries starting nearly from the time it was possible to accurately ascertain the alcohol content of beer back in Victorian times, and they place the average
ABV of beers consumed at around 6-7%. It's likely that the 'Dinner Ale' that most breweries produced, at around 3-4%, was what would have been served to children, as much of the water at the time was indeed undrinkable. It wasn't until the lean times of the First World War that alcohol content as a whole began to drop.
So prior to the twentieth century most Britons were probably properly tipsy much of the time. There is some evidence to suggest that it wasn't quite at the same level in America. Colonial America didn't have a brewing industry, favoring cider and rum. And they had likely had access to drinkable water, as Benjamin Franklin, during his time in Britain, was frequently the subject of mockery over his desire to drink water. He earned the hilarious nickname 'Water American', proving that the famous British wit has made some advances over the last few centuries.
More to the subject of the thread, the point is that alcoholism was and is a tricky thing to judge, given different tolerance levels between individuals and different standards of consumption over different societies. Nixon and Kennedy were pill-poppers, Reagan may or may not have been suffering the early effects of Alzheimers. Anything else is pure speculation.