late 14c., prohibicioun, "act of prohibiting or forbidding, a forbidding by authority, an order forbidding certain actions," from Anglo-French and Old French prohibition, prohibicion (early 13c.), from Latin prohibitionem (nominative prohibitio) "a hindering, forbidding; legal prohibition," noun of action from past-participle stem of prohibere "hold back, restrain, hinder, prevent," from pro "away, forth" (see pro-) + habere "to hold" (from PIE root *ghabh- "to give or receive").
The meaning "interdiction by law of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, except for medicinal or sacramental uses," is by 1851, American English. The national Prohibition party in the U.S. organized in 1869. The policy was in effect nationwide in U.S. as law 1920-1933 under the Volstead Act.
People whose youth did not coincide with the twenties never had our reverence for strong drink. Older men knew liquor before it became the symbol of a sacred cause. Kids who began drinking after 1933 take it as a matter of course. ... Drinking, we proved to ourselves our freedom as individuals and flouted Congress. We conformed to a popular type of dissent — dissent from a minority. It was the only period during which a fellow could be smug and slopped concurrently. [A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals," 1959]
Related: Prohibitionist; prohibitionism.