Andrea Tone

Canada Research Chair in the Social History of Medicine

Tier 1
Renewed: 2011-10-01
McGill University


Coming to Canada from

Georgia Institute of Technology, United States

Research involves

Studying the development and use of anti-anxiety agents in contemporary medicine and culture.

Research relevance

The research is enhancing our understanding of the diagnosis, interpretation, and treatment of anxiety in modern society.

Mother's Little Helpers: Anti-Anxiety Agents in Modern Medicine

We live in a tranquilized, if not always tranquil, world. Men and women have experienced anxiety since the dawn of time. In the last 50 years, however, they have increasingly turned to a pharmaceutical answer for the problem of everyday nerves. Since the mid-1950s, Canadians, Americans and Western Europeans have consumed millions of doctor-prescribed tranquilizers to combat anxiety.

Canada Research Chair Dr. Andrea Tone is exploring how the pharmaceutical management of anxiety became a billion-dollar business and an integral part of modern medicine. Drawing on periodical literature, medical accounts, advertisements, newspapers, patents, popular culture, oral histories, company records, and archival evidence, her research examines how minor tranquilizers have reoriented the way physicians interpret anxiety, and the way people experience anxiety.

What social, economic and medical conditions enabled the drug Miltown, launched in 1955, to become the first psychological wonder drug in the western world? What do we make of studies showing that most users of tranquilizers are middle-class women? How has the popularity of tranquilizers transformed the practice of psychiatry as a profession? Why is it that, in the age of antidepressants, the bestselling psychotropic drug is not Prozac or Paxil, but the benzodiazepine drug Xanax, which is prescribed for anxiety disorders?

By finding the answers to these and other related questions, Tone will provide us with new insights into medicine, psychiatry and anxiety. Her answers will also add to our understanding of the rise of the pharmaceutical industry in post-World War II society, the history of drugs and culture, and the experiences of ordinary people searching for tranquility during turbulent times.