What the History of Drug Addiction Tells Us

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What the History of Drug Addiction Tells Us

Drug addiction today is viewed as a disease and can be treated through modern, scientifically researched methods. This disease is characterized by long-lasting changes that occur in the brain. Modern society is generally on the same page about addiction, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the history of drug addiction, society viewed drug addiction as a moral choice that had created a flaw of the individual. Also, in the history of drug addiction, treatments included imprisonment, church-guided prayer, and sending individuals to asylums. These “treatments” were not surprisingly an ineffective way to recovery.

In the history of drug addiction, it has been a problem from the beginning foundation of the country. Before the 19th century, the drugs that were commonly used and abused were related to plants that helped reduce the feelings of pain. In modern times, we have harmful synthetic drugs, but even the primitive forms of drugs abused in the past were dangerous. Even when natural substances are being abused, the body can experience addiction. Drug abuse history also spreads out to early uses of opium and alcohol. The United States began to take action and offer treatment solutions and regulations for the public.

The Early History of Drug Addiction in the United States

Opium and alcohol were both used to dull the pain during certain surgical and medical procedures, the history of drug addiction tells us. Before the Civil War, the effects of drugs and alcohol and their addictive qualities were not entirely understood. This was an issue since many soldiers of the Civil War were given drugs for pain and became addicted after surgery. In the 1800s, morphine, codeine, and cocaine were developed and unregulated. The wide availability of these newer developed drugs made it easy for many people to try, and become addicted.

The US began to develop laws and regulations when it became clear that drugs were a serious problem among the public. To help the drug problem, regulations like the ones made in 1906 were passed to make it more difficult to obtain certain drugs. The 1906 Federal Food and Drugs Act were meant for regulating drugs, foods, medicines and their traffic.

Although drugs were no longer easily accessible for the public to obtain, addiction was still prominent throughout the United States. Trafficking drugs still gave the access people needed to try and abuse substances, resulting in an addictive state. At this time in the history of drug addiction, since substance abuse was still being recognized as a significant issue for public health and safety, the US had to take further actions. These actions resulted in The Federal Bureau of Narcotics prosecuting medical doctors that gave prescriptions that violated laws. Treatment options were expanding, but still limited as the knowledge of addiction was still lacking.

Substance abuse research began funding when the NIMH was established. The NIMH, or the National Institute of Mental Health, began after World War II. Efforts made to diminish drug abuse for generations to come started with research by this group. Research on addiction, prevention, and public awareness was initiated and progressed during this time.

Drugs to Treat Other Drugs

Drugs kicking out other drugs? Further along in the history of drug addiction around the 1950s and 1960s, doctors believed that using drugs like LSD could treat alcoholism and other addictions. As the use of some medications does seem to counter certain symptoms drug abusers experience today, the use of hallucinogenic drugs seems not at all helpful. As the hallucinogenic drugs became illegal themselves, the use of this method for treatment became abandoned.

Recreational Drug Use in the 1960s and 1970s

In this same area particularly, consumers had begun to use drugs for less medical and more recreational purposes. During the 60s and 70s, the drugs being abused varied from marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin, LSD, and hallucinogenic mushrooms. In the history of drug addiction, this was known as the “hippie” culture. This period of time was known for abusing more of the hallucinogenic substances, while other drugs still were a major problem among other areas of the public. The addictive nature of opiates made the fight against drugs more challenging, and the treatment that followed. As the popularity of certain substances began to rise, so did the approaches to prevention.

Understanding drug addiction has come a long way from the research concluded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, health professionals, and scientists.

In drug addiction, understanding the individual’s mental health is key to understanding the right treatments. This is the area of misunderstanding in the past history of drug abuse. Individuals were not accessed separately with diverse symptoms. Rather, the individuals suffering from drug addiction were treated as a whole, mental and moral health issue to be experimented on with “treatments.”

Drug Addiction Treatment in Present Times

In present times, addiction is treated in a variety of ways, with thousands of available treatment facilities in the United States. Modern treatments can range from behavioral therapy, counseling, medication, and other approaches. As many people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction may also have a coinciding mental health disorder, treatment facilities often address both.

Detoxification is one way that many drug treatment facilities similarly begin their treatments. When people suddenly stop the use of certain drugs, withdrawal symptoms can occur. With detoxification programs in a treatment facility, the management and coping of withdrawal symptoms is learned. In previous understanding through the history of drug addiction, suffering through withdrawal was deemed necessary for rehab. The doctors of that time may have seen suffering necessary for mainly a means of punishment for having the addiction in the first place. Although ridding the abused drugs from an individual’s system is necessary, an individual does not need to suffer. Many non-medicated ways of coping through withdrawal symptoms are provided at alternative treatment facilities.


Therapy is an excellent way of preventing an individual from relapse after beginning a treatment program. Support groups are one of the ways therapy is integrated into a treatment program’s routine and schedule. The therapy given in support groups may include cognitive and behavioral. New ways of thinking can be developed such as talking openly about experiences, identifying and managing problem behavior, recognizing cravings and time management. Learning these skills can help an individual to establish the motivation to change and stay off drugs.

Inpatient and Outpatient Programs

With the choice of modern rehabilitation programs being readily available throughout the United States, individuals seeking treatment have many options. Inpatient rehab is a form of rehabilitation where an individual stays in a treatment facility. This can proceed for less than a month or more than a month. Focus areas include nutritional health, exercise, therapy, and skill learning. Inpatient programs are said to be the most beneficial of programs since the individual is fully engaged in the program by staying on the premises.

Outpatient rehabilitation is quite similar to inpatient rehab, although the treatment is focused on the individual’s regular schedule. By participating in outpatient rehabilitation, a person can receive treatment while going about their day-to-day schedule. Usually, this program is less expensive than inpatient programs. Therapy is also a part of outpatient rehab, as the home environment of the patient typically makes a comfortable atmosphere. Change is not always an easy task for someone suffering from addiction, which is why family support is often needed for continuing therapy.

Treatment for people with addiction has most definitely changed in drastic ways throughout the history of drug addiction. Treatment programs today give a variety of individualized assistance for the best outcome and recovery for all sorts of addiction and mental health issues.

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