George W. Bush substance abuse controversy

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Former President George W. Bush

There have been various allegations of substance abuse by 43rd United States President George W. Bush. Bush has described his use of alcohol until his 40th birthday in 1986 as alcohol abuse.


Bush has described his days before his religious conversion in his 40s as his "nomadic" period and "irresponsible youth" and admitted to drinking "too much" in those years. In Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President by James Hatfield, Bush is quoted as saying that "alcohol began to compete with my energies ... I'd lose focus". Although Bush states that he was not an alcoholic, he has acknowledged that he was "drinking too much".[1]

Nicholas D. Kristof quotes Bush's cousin Elsie Walker as saying, "He was a riot. But afterward, when you're older, that can wear thin", and gives the example of Bush asking a "proper" female friend of his parents at a family cocktail party, "So, what's sex like after 50, anyway?"[1]

In December 1966, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after he and some friends had "a few beers" and stole a Christmas wreath from a hotel.[2] The charges were later dropped.

On September 4, 1976, Bush was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol near his family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He admitted his guilt, was fined US$150, and had his driving license in the state suspended for two years, although the White House had claimed 30 days.[3] This incident did not become public knowledge until it was reported by Erin Fehlau of Maine FOX affiliate WPXT-TV in the week before the 2000 election.[4]

The most notorious episode, reported in numerous diverse sources including U.S. News & World Report on November 1, 1999, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq by Robert Parry, First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty by Bill Minutaglio, and W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty by Elizabeth Mitchell, has 26-year-old Bush visiting his parents in Washington, D.C. over the Christmas vacation in 1972, shortly after the death of his grandfather, and taking his 16-year-old brother Marvin out drinking. On the way home Bush lost control of the car and ran over a waste container, but continued home with the garbage can wedged noisily under the car. When his father, George H. W. Bush, called him on the carpet for not only his own behavior but for exposing his younger brother to risk, George W., still under the influence, appears to have retorted angrily, "I hear you're looking for me. You wanna go mano-a-mano right here?" Before the elder Bush could reply, the situation was defused by brother Jeb, who took the opportunity to surprise his father with the happy news that George W. had been accepted to Harvard Business School.[5]

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush said that he gave up drinking after waking up with a hangover after his 40th birthday celebration: "I quit drinking in 1986 and haven't had a drop since then." He ascribed the change in part to a 1985 meeting with Reverend Billy Graham, after which he began serious Bible study, as well as to gentle but persistent pressure from his wife, Laura.[6][7][8] However this claim has been challenged by some due to a 2004 interview Graham did with Brian Williams where he said.

"I've heard others say that, and people have written it, but I cannot say that," he says. "I was with him and I used to teach the Bible at Kennebunkport to the Bush family when he was a younger man, but I never feel that I in any way turned his life around."[9]

Mickey Herskowitz, a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle who became close friends with the Bush family and was originally contracted to ghost-write Bush's book A Charge to Keep, recalled interviewing Bush about it when he was doing research for the book.

"I remember asking him about the famous meeting at Kennebunkport with the Reverend Billy Graham. And you know what? He couldn't remember a single word that passed between them."[10]

Friends recall that Bush said nothing of his decision, even to Laura, until many weeks later when they realized that he had not had so much as a single beer in the interim.


Bush refused to answer questions about past marijuana use. In a taped conversation with a friend, Bush said "I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? 'Cause I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."[11]



  • Hatfield, J.H. (1999). Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President. New York City, Soft Skull Press. ISBN 1-887128-50-6.

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