Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Leaders Under the Influence

Stacy Conradt
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If we heard reports of George W. Bush or Barack Obama waking up and having a martini before going about their daily routines, there would definitely be an uproar. But not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for world leaders to drink throughout the day, and it wasn't that long ago that opium was considered a cure-all medicine. Now that we're more fully aware of how those things can mess with your brain, it seems astonishing that these people were running the world while under the influence of hallucinogens or alcohol. This post was inspired by a great podcast, by the way - Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. If you're interested in stuff like this, be sure to check it out.

1. Despite the image of youth and vitality he portrayed, JFK actually had a lot of health problems, including asthma, Addison's disease, back problems and severe allergies. To treat all of his problems, he was using any number of painkillers and opiate-based medicine. A doctor nicknamed "Dr. Feelgood" gave him shots that included vitamins, steroids, and amphetamines. He was taking so many shots in such large doses that legitimate doctors told him he needed to back off of the stuff. During both the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was on steroids, painkillers, anti-spasmodics, antibiotics, antihistamines and an anti-psychotic drug. This cocktail of drugs often left him feeling groggy or unfocused, so he would take anti-anxiety medicine to try to counter all of that.

2. Winston Churchill liked to drink "“ that was no secret. He woke up drinking, in fact, and was known to keep a drink within reach throughout the entire day. However, he also popped pills like they were candy. He named his pills majors, minors, reds, greens, and "Lord Morans," after his physician who prescribed them. He also took stimulants for the same reason JFK later did: to appear youthful and vigorous.

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When the Germans attacked the Russians in 1941, Stalin pretty much disappeared off the face of the map for a week. One theory is that he was pretty much out on a bender that entire week. And a firsthand account says that he was able to drink a "khanty" "“ a buffalo horn used as a glass that could easily hold three or four bottles of wine "“ with no problem whatsoever.

5. Hitler reportedly took doctor-administrated amphetamine shots for the last several years of his life. Then he took barbiturates to come down. His doctor, Theodore Morell, meticulously recorded each of 73 medications he gave to Hitler, including sedatives, hormones, laxatives, narcotics, methamphetamine and cortisone.

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7. Herman Göring, Hitler's designated successor, was a morphine addict. In fact, in the "˜20s, he was placed in a mental asylum because he was such a violent drug addict. But by the time he was a big cheese with the Nazis, he would shoot himself up before staff meetings and then fall asleep mid-meeting. By the end of the war, most of the people around him thought he was pretty incompetent.

8. It's speculated that Napoleon's performance at Waterloo was so awful because he was heavily under the influence. Reports say that on the day of the battle, he was sluggish, indecisive and slow, probably due to the fact that he was in pain the night before and took a dose of opium. This was a time when opium was commonly used as a medicine for a wide variety of ailments, so it really wouldn't have been thought of twice.

9. If the name James Wilkinson doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because history hasn't been kind to him. He led an invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, but he was so soused on alcohol and hopped up on opium that his directions were terrible, misleading and confusing. An army of 180 Canadians managed to fend off Wilkinson's force of more than 4,000.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have been an alcoholic, but he certainly had alcohol-related bouts of rage. One Air Force One Steward recalls that Johnson threw a drink on the floor after declaring it too weak: his preference was three-quarters of a glass of scotch and one-quarter soda water. George Reedy, Johnson's press secretary, said he would drink scotch after scotch for days on end, and then abruptly just stop for months.

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