Is liquor still ever prescribed by doctors and sold by pharmacists?

During national Prohibition in this country, from 1920 to 1933, one of the exemptions in the law was for medicinal use, when prescribed by a licensed physician, and dispensed by a pharmacist. Does this ever still happen? Could alcohol legally be sold to a minor under these circumstances? I nearly asked this question a couple of days ago, but demurred. But today, while trying to look up the law for the Malt Liquor thread, I found that similar language still exists in the California statutes today. The following excerpt is an exemption to the laws against selling alcoholic beverages within a stated distance of a university or veterans’ facility:

Is this exemption just a statutory “living fossil”, or does anyone ever still use it?

It’s not likely that any doctor would prescribe alcohol to a minor per se, but certain liquid medicines do have an alcohol base and thus can be prescibed (though even that is phasing out as manufacturers use other liquids as a base for their medicines). The exemption would apply to any prescription alcohol-based cough medicine, some of which were had a pretty strong alcohol content.

We might continue to see age-based differences in the law regarding cough medicine, due to concerns about dextromethorphan abuse. But until we started hearing about “robotripping”, I never heard of a case where a minor couldn’t walk into any store and buy a bottle of any OTC cough syrup.

In veterinary medicine grain alcohol still has some medical uses, for instance as a treatment for ethylene glycol toxicity. Here in Pennsylvania I used to be able to walk into a state run liquor store and buy a couple pints to keep on hand (or for after work parties). Now, thanks to a few frat party fatalities you can no longer buy grain OTC and a prescription is needed.

BTW…I have a few prescriptions written for alcohol during Prohibition. Cool collectibles.:slight_smile:

Yes it is. It is often prescribed for the DT’s when an alcoholic is going through withdrawal. My wife saw it delivered once when she was a resident. The pharmacist came into the room with a white paper bag that had a warm Pabst in it. Couldn’t crack a cold one in the hospital I guess.


If an alcoholic is hospitalized for, say, surgery, some doctors feel its safer to continue to give a minimum amount of alcohol to pervent complications. Hopefully, the alcoholism is treated there after.
IV alcohol is used in cases of pesticide and antifreeze poisonings. It take up the same receptor sites and allows to poison to be excreted without being metabolized. IV alcohol was given to stop permature labor before better, safer alternatives were available.

That’s because its a scheduled drug, and must be kept in the safe. No 'frig in the safe.

I have an alcoholic family member for whom the doctor is prescribing one oz. of liquor per day. Even if he’s in the hospital, he still gets a shot glass every afternoon.

As people have noted, there are instances when ethanol is the drug of choice for unusual situations.

It might be noted that a prescription need not be for a controlled substance dispensed by prescription only, whether it is abusable or not. Customarily a doctor will only write a prescription for something that requires one to be dispensed, but circumstances can alter cases.

When my parents were first diagnosed with late-life diet-controlled diabetes, there were several OTC things which they were required to add to their diet, notably vitamin/mineral supplements. They were on Medicare at the time all this hit, and in New York, sales of OTC dietary supplements are taxable. But the pharmacist we dealt at was a family friend, and called their doctor. It turned out that by his prescribing for them what they could buy OTC, it could be sold tax-exempt (as a prescribed medicine) and IIRC with Medicare picking up a portion of the cost (though this may have been some other program).

I can recall instances where one glass of red wine was an element of a diet set forth by a dietician – the particular nutritive benefits derived from it outweighing the negatives of the ethanol intake. It would make sense if this were prescribed, for the same reasons as above.

When my grandfather was in the nursing home, his roommate had a son who was a doctor. He eventually asked the nurses to replace the sleeping pills they were giving to his father with a single jigger of brandy, served just before bedtime each night. He said that it would be just as effective for his father, with less side effects. (And he was quite right! I visited often enough to see that it worked just as he said.) Every so often, they told him they were running low, and the doc brought in another bottle of brandy for his father.

The nursing home was willing to do this, but asked that he actually write out a prescription for his father to get this brandy every night. So that they had a medical document to put in his file, showing that they were instructed to do this.

My dermatologist “prescribed” Everclear (grain alcohol) for my acne when I was 17. I applied it to my face, obviously. I think he just told my mom to buy it at a liquor store though. Worked great.

Wow, is someone still actually doing this? If the surgery is emergent or urgent, I’ve seen librium or other benzo used to prevent withdrawal. If it’s elective, most surgeons I know will insist on detoxing first, then doing the surgery.

My experience was with an older doc. It was a few years ago, so, most or all of that “old school” may be gone.
Sorry, I wasn’t very clear.

I have heard of alcoho being perscribed. It has to be for alcoholics. Little known fact is that alcoholism is the only addiction where withdrawl is actually deadly. I forget the reason why.

In some places in Massachussets you can still find small neighborhood pharmacies with small bottles of whiskey or whatever behind the pharmacist’s counter. There was an article about this in the Boston Globe a few years back. I seem to remember that it was a holdover from Prohibition, allowing sales for medical reasons, and that the exemption was not eliminated when Prohibition was repealed.

The Globe article seemed to indicate that many of the people who still availed themselves of the alcohol by prescription angle were little old ladies who didn’t really need alcohol for medical reasons, they were just too embarrased to go into a liquor store and buy a pint! Their doctors would oblige them, as long as they didn’t have true drinking problems.

Withdrawal from barbiturates can be fatal too.

Fascinating. This is more the sort of thing I was after.

I do remember that in The Wild One, there’s a scene where the town cop agonizing over what to do next, and he’s fortifying himself with a couple of shots. The bottle says “Whiskey”, but in small type, with no fancy brand labelling. In fact, it looks more like a medicine bottle than a typical booze bottle.

I have to ask about this. In what sense is alcohol a scheduled drug? When you say that I assume you’re referring to the federal Controlled Substances Act, which organizes most of the the other drugs of abuse into Schedules I through V. Or does your state have a modified statute based on the CSA, and includes alcohol in one of the schedules? In this case, I’m assuming there’s an exemption for sales through the traditional outlets–bars and liquor stores–but the substance is handled like a controlled substance in a medical setting.

If you are really interested I found the article by searching the Globe archives. I apparently got one detail wrong, though:

“A prohibition legacy: Some Boston drug stores still sell liquor for medicinal purposes.” Published July 13, 1993. Author Sally Jacobs/Globe staff. You can purchase the entire article for a nominal fee (less than $5, I think) at .com/globe.

The abstract mentions you don’t even need a doctor’s prescription, you just sign an affadavit swearing the booze is for medicinal purposes!

That should be of course.