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History of Drug Abuse

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History of Substance Abuse Rehabilitation

As drugs have been abused for hundreds of years all over the world, their effects have been felt for just as long. Since drugs have been used, there were always those who abused them, which led to full-blown addiction and the bevy of side effects that come with it. As the physical and mental health implications of addiction became clearer, rehabilitation efforts began to appear. As a result, the history of rehabilitation in the United States dates back hundreds of years.

One of the Founding Fathers of America, Benjamin Rush, was one of the first to believe that alcoholism was not a matter of personal willpower but rather due to the alcohol itself. Rush challenged the accepted belief at the time that alcoholism was a moral failing, thereby progressing the concept of addiction as a disease. Per the University of Utah, in the past, addiction was treated as a criminal offense, with intensive faith-based prayer, or in mental institutions, but this signified a shift to viewing addiction as an illness that could be managed.

In 1864, the New York State Inebriate Asylum, the first hospital intended to solely treat alcoholism as a mental health condition, was founded. As the public began to view alcoholism and related drug abuse more seriously, more community groups and sober houses began appearing.

Today, thousands of drug abuse rehabilitation programs offer addicts a variety of treatment approaches, ranging from traditional, evidenced-based care to more experimental or holistic services. Since care should be customized according to the individual patient, oftentimes one’s treatment regime will consist of a range of therapies that have been chosen specifically for the individual.

Following Prohibition and the Twenty-first Amendment, which overturned Prohibition, a major step for the rehabilitation movement came in 1935, when Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson – commonly known as Dr. Bob and Bill W. – founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Using a spiritually based approach to rehabilitation, AA presented a welcoming environment where recovering alcoholics could find solace and support. From the AA format, various other branches formed, such as:

  •  Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA).
  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA).

Today, thousands of drug abuse rehabilitation programs offer addicts a variety of treatment approaches, ranging from traditional, evidenced-based care to more experimental or holistic services. Since care should be customized according to the individual patient, oftentimes one’s treatment regime will consist of a range of therapies that have been chosen specifically for the individual.


Video: A Round for the House – A History of Drinking in America


Credit: A Round for the House – A History of Drinking in America. Produced by Stephen R. Powell and Thomas P. McDade


Drug Trends Prior to 2000

Drug abuse has plagued the American continent since the 1800s, when morphine, heroin and cocaine were hailed for their amazing curative properties. By the mid-20th century, however, illicit drug use was all but eradicated in the US through focused national and global suppression of the industry. All that changed in the 1960s when many new and exotic drugs, such as hallucinogens, amphetamines and marijuana, became more readily available.

The proliferation of these substances birthed many government agencies, all commissioned to counter the scourge of illegal drugs. These bureaucracies, in turn, needed statistical information in order to effectively understand the scope of their task. In due course, they discovered that:

  • Between 1980 and 1984, first-time cocaine users averaged 1.3 million per year.
  • By 1994, that number dwindled to 533,000.
  • In 1995, 5,000,000 Americans confessed to smoking marijuana on a frequent basis.
  • In 1996, the Office of Drug Control Policy detected an increase in heroin use among youth and young adults.
  • Between 1992 and 1993, 5.5 percent of pregnant women per year took some form of illicit drug.


Historical Drug Abuse


The Continuing Spread of Addictive Substances

 

Opium eventually made it to China, and the local Chinese started trading it with the British, French and Dutch traders. It started arriving in Europe and the Americas in bulk in the late 17th century, when it swiftly became a problem.

With improved ships that could carry more cargo, traders could get almost anywhere in the world and bring back whatever they could get their hands on. Without control, drugs ran rampant through middle and upper society. The poor were no better off; in Europe-particularly in Britain-gin had become a nuisance thanks to some exceptionally poorly thought-out laws, and in the Americas, cannabis, rum and beer were proving problematic for colonists.

While the use of opium for dulling pain was well known by physicians worldwide, the real problem began with the isolation of morphine from opium in 1804. Introduced commercially in 1827, morphine quickly became the drug of choice, particularly after the advent of the hypodermic syringe in 1853. With few effective controls on its production and sale, it rapidly reached epidemic levels in the United States thanks to the American Civil War. Around 45,000 soldiers came home from this war unable to function without morphine, according to Time’s The Civil War: An Illustrated History. A similar effect was observed in the Franco-Prussian wars between France and Germany.

In the late half of the 19th century, drug abuse was so widespread that Britain went to war twice with China to keep opium trade routes open, and these naturally became known as the Opium Wars. Cocaine was isolated in 1884 and quickly became yet another widespread drug of abuse. Heroin and other opiates were synthesized and marketed as nonaddictive alternatives to morphine. Of course, heroin did turn out to be very addictive, causing more people to abuse the drug.

Thanks to increased chemical and drug development in the 20th century, more drugs with abuse potential became available. LSD, methamphetamine and synthetic opiates are all relatively recent drugs. To counter the growing tide of addiction, drug laws became stricter, and drug addiction started to carry a serious social stigma.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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