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The History of Drug Abuse in the United States

Substance abuse is not a new epidemic or a problem that has only started in relatively recent history.

Drug abuse has been reported in many countries for hundreds of years, including in the United States of America.
history of drug abuse in america

By understanding the history of drug addiction and its problem, it is possible to put the current situation into perspective and learn from the challenges of the past.

Early Use of Drugs

Drug abuse has been a problem from the foundation of the country. The United States is a relatively young country and drugs from other areas of the world were already used for medicinal purposes in the early history of the country.

Before the 19th century, substance abuse was primarily related to plant-products and alcohol.

The drugs that were commonly used in the early history of the country were obtained from poppy plants or similar plants that helped reduce feelings of pain.
The primitive forms of drugs that were not synthetically created were still dangerous and addictive.

poppyDespite being made directly from natural substances, such as poppy plants, the impact on the body was similar. The difference was the lack of knowledge related to addiction and the limited recovery solutions.

Opium and Alcohol

alcoholOpium and alcohol were common substances that were used in early American history.
Doctors would use opium to dull pain during surgical or medical procedures. When opium was not available, the doctors would turn to alcohol to dull or mask the symptoms of the health problem.
Although the drugs were used for medical purposes, the addictive qualities of the drugs were not fully understood before the Civil War. Many soldiers were given opium to dull pain during surgery and became addicted to the drug.

drug creationDuring the 1800s, developments in medicine led to the creation of morphine, codeine and cocaine. Initially, the drugs were unregulated and readily available.

When it became clear that the drugs were a serious problem, regulations were developed and laws were made to help contain the problem. In 1906, regulations passed to make it harder to obtain certain substances.

Early Treatment and Laws

After measures were taken to regulate drugs and certain drugs became illegal, the United States began taking steps to offer treatment solutions.

During the early 1900s, the treatment options were still limited due to the lack of information.

In 1914, the Harrison Act passed, and it caused the development of positive changes in drug treatment.

By 1918, clinics were established for drug maintenance, and addiction to narcotics became illegal.

need a prescriptionDrugs were no longer readily available and easy to obtain. Certain substances were banned due to the dangers associated with addiction, and medicinal medications were only available through a doctor’s prescription.

1939 stand against illegal drugsAs it became obvious that substance abuse was still a problem, addiction became a matter of public health and safety.

By 1939, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics began taking a harsh stand against illegal drug abuse and started prosecuting medical doctors who enabled addiction by giving prescriptions that violated laws.

Treatment options were still limited due to the lack of knowledge, which led to further studies and evaluations into addiction. When the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, was established after World War II, substance abuse research was funded, and more efforts were made to prevent drug abuse in future generations.

Prevention measures were taken to ensure that the public became aware of the dangers associated with drugs and illegal use of substances.

New Wave of Drug Abuse

Despite efforts to prevent substance abuse and the laws that regulated drugs on a federal and state level, substance abuse did not stop with the legal changes. Many men and women continued to abuse drugs and alcohol.

recreational drug useDuring the 1960s, consumers began using drugs for recreational purposes.

The particular drugs that were abused during the 1960s and 1970s varied. The drugs that were commonly abused include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Hallucinogenic mushrooms
Although the hippie culture was known for abusing hallucinogenic substances and marijuana, other drugs were still a problem. Opiates remained a challenge due to the addictive nature of the drugs and the medical use of the drugs. Although cocaine was still abused during the 1960s and 1970s, it was a secondary drug and did not gain the popularity of hallucinogenic substances.
With the new drugs and the popularity of certain substances, measures were taken to make more substances illegal and take an active approach to preventing substance abuse.

During Nixon’s administration, a large portion of the budget for substance abuse was put into treatment and prevention as opposed to legislation and regulation.

Certain substances that were not previously illegal, such as LSD, were made illegal during this era. It was a time when substance abuse came to the front and measures were taken to prevent future addictions.

History of Drug Abuse During the 1980s and 1990s

The 1980s saw a shift in the type of drugs that were abused. The drug of choice shifted from hallucinogens to cocaine, which resulted in a wave of violence and violent crimes.

1980 cocaine replaces hallucinogensThroughout the 1980s and 1990s, drug abuse began to increase. President Clinton’s administration saw an increase in illicit drug abuse, which resulted in an increased anti-drug budget and further efforts to prevent substance abuse in younger generations.

By the year 2000, the number of arrests related to illicit substance abuse increased dramatically. More than 1.5 million arrests were related to drug abuse. Even in crimes that were not directly associated with buying or selling drugs, many criminals were also abusing drugs at the time of the crime, which resulted in a secondary charge.

It became clear in the 1980s and 1990s that substance abuse was a problem that was not gradually reducing. Despite the efforts of lawmakers, it was not possible to completely prevent substance abuse or to avoid illicit drugs.

Changing Laws

As state laws begin to change and certain drugs are used for medical purposes, it is not surprising that the federal laws are also shifting. When drugs that are legal for medicinal purposes are obtained in states where the laws have been changed, the federal laws are secondary.

marijuanaMedicinal marijuana is allowed in certain states, but only when it is used for legitimate medical purposes with the supervision of a doctor.

Treatment Solutions

Although the legal factors and the history of substance abuse are a concern, the research into addiction treatment is a positive result that has occurred after years of study and legal changes. There is a wide range of treatment options and many solutions are proven to help when individuals are trying to overcome an addiction.

keyThe key is finding the right solution for the individual, which can take time and research.

The United States has a long history of drug abuse. Although the drugs that are most commonly abused in any generation change with the years, it is not a new problem. Drug abuse and addiction have been a problem that has carried forward for generations. While lawmakers have proposed and passed legislation to reduce drug abuse, it is a fact that illicit use of substances is a problem. Fortunately, changes over the years have resulted in laws that focus on long term drug rehab and prevention so future generations can give up drug abuse.