The Drunkard's Progress: A lithograph by Nathaniel Currier
supporting the temperance movement, January 1846.
Some kind of limitation on the trade in alcohol can be seen in the Code of Hammurabi (ca.1772 BCE) specifically banning the selling of beer for money. It could only be bartered for barley: "If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price for beer, but if she receive money or make the beer a measure smaller than the barley measure received, they shall throw her into the water."
In the Western world, one of the great moral issues of the nineteenth century was slavery, but once that battle was won, social moralists turned to their next targets, one of which was prohibition. In the early twentieth century, much of the impetus for the prohibition movement in the Nordic countries and North America came from moralistic convictions of pietistic Protestants. Prohibition movements in the West coincided with the advent of women's suffrage, with newly empowered women as part of the political process strongly supporting policies that curbed alcohol consumption.
The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries:
- 1907 to 1948 in Prince Edward Island, and for shorter periods in other provinces in Canada
- 1907 to 1992 in the Faroe Islands; limited private imports from Denmark were allowed from 1928
- 1914 to 1925 in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union
- 1915 to 1933 in Iceland (beer was still prohibited until 1989)
- 1916 to 1927 in Norway (fortified wine and beer were also prohibited from 1917 to 1923)
- 1919 in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, March 21 to August 1; called szesztilalom
- 1919 to 1932 in Finland (called kieltolaki, "ban law")
- 1920 to 1933 in the United States
After several years, prohibition failed in North America and elsewhere. Rum-running or bootlegging became widespread, and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Distilleries and breweries in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean flourished as their products were either consumed by visiting Americans or illegally exported to the United States. Chicago became notorious as a haven for prohibition dodgers during the time known as the Roaring Twenties. Prohibition generally came to an end in the late 1920s or early 1930s in most of North America and Europe, although a few locations continued prohibition for many more years.
In some countries where the dominant religion forbids the use of alcohol, the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited or restricted today. For example, in Saudi Arabia and Libya alcohol is banned; in Pakistan and Iran it is illegal with exceptions.