The History of Drug Abuse

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Rehabilitation of Substance Abuse History

Drugs have been used for hundreds of thousands of years around the globe. Their effects can be felt just as long. Drugs have been used for hundreds of thousands of years around the globe. Their effects are still felt today. There have always been people who used drugs, and that led to addiction, along with all the side effects. Rehabilitation efforts started to emerge as addiction became more apparent. The history of rehabilitation in America dates back hundreds years.

Benjamin Rush, one of America’s Founding Fathers, believed that alcoholism wasn’t a matter of willpower, but was rather caused by alcohol. Rush challenged the belief that alcoholism was a moral failing and promoted the idea of addiction as a disease. According to the University of Utah in the past, addiction could have been treated with intense faith-based prayer or in mental institutions. However, this was a shift towards addiction being a manageable illness.

The New York State Inebriate Hospital was established in 1864. It was the first hospital to treat alcoholism solely as a mental condition. More sober homes and community groups began to appear as the public began taking alcoholism and drug abuse more seriously.

There are thousands of drug abuse rehab programs that offer a range of treatments for addicts. These include traditional, evidence-based care, as well as more holistic or experimental services. Because each patient is unique, a treatment program may include a variety of therapies tailored to their needs.

After Prohibition and The Twenty-first Amendment which ended Prohibition, a significant step in the rehabilitation movement was taken in 1935 when Dr. Bob Smith (or Bill W.) founded Alcoholics Anonymous. AA provided a safe environment for recovering alcoholics to find support and solace through a spiritually-based approach to rehabilitation. Other branches were born from the AA model, including:

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

There are thousands of drug abuse rehab programs that offer a range of treatments for addicts. These include traditional, evidence-based care, as well as more holistic or experimental services. Because each patient is unique, a treatment program may include a variety of therapies tailored to their needs.

Drug Trends Before 2000

Since the 1800s, drug abuse has been a problem on the American continent. At that time, heroin, morphine and cocaine were all praised for their miraculous curative properties. However, illegal drug use in America was almost eradicated by the United States through a coordinated national and international suppression. The 1960s saw the rise of many exotic drugs such as marijuana, hallucinogens, and amphetamines.

Many government agencies were created to combat the spread of illegal drugs. To effectively understand their mission, these bureaucracies needed statistical data. They discovered:

The average annual number of first-time users of cocaine was 1.3 million between 1980 and 1984. This number fell to 533,000 in 1994.

In 1995, 5,000,000 Americans admitted to using marijuana regularly.

The Office of Drug Control Policy observed an increase in heroin consumption among young people and adults in 1996.

Historical Drug Abuse

Humanity has always found ways to ease the daily grind since the beginning of time. Ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq, saw agriculture flourish and an extensive network of cities began to emerge. Beer was born out of the cultivation and harvesting of wheat, barley, and other crops. The water was not particularly healthy and the beer’s low alcohol content killed many harmful organisms.


The beer was not particularly strong but it wasn’t very tasty. In 3,000 BCE, the concept of sterility had yet to be invented. Beer was enjoyed in large quantities, and even the gods loved to drink it. In the “cradle” of civilization, alcohol addiction was rampant. People during this time lived shorter lives due to diseases and perhaps drunkenness.


The Indians, Assyrians, and Egyptians were all cultivating and making opium from the poppy during the period when beer was becoming more popular. This was a popular way for the wealthy to relax and enjoy their leisure time. However, there are some less benign uses. A scroll from Egypt suggests that opium be used to soothe a baby who is crying.

Hallucinogens & Natural Highs

In order to inducing visions, Persephone, Demeter, and Dionysus used mead (fermented honey), or beer, for 15 centuries. There is something magical about hallucinations. Entheogens are natural chemicals that cause hallucinations. Many plants have been grown around the globe, including the fly agaric, peyote, and cannabis. This is clearly a form of drug abuse. However, it was socially acceptable at the time.

These drugs were popularized by the Romans for their recreational use, but there was a period after the fall of Rome known as the Dark Ages when very few intoxicants could be imported to Europe. The Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans experimented with mescaline, cannabis, and peyote to induce shamanic visions.


The second millennium saw the rise of world trade. Ships began sailing from China to Europe. Marco Polo discovered major trade routes to India, China, and the Caribbean. In 1492, Christopher Columbus led an expedition that ended up on Hispaniola, which is the island that includes the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

The American continent was then ready for development. Many conquistadors found the drugs that kept the locals thriving, particularly cocaine, which was touted to be a miracle cure for all sorts of ailments.


Tobacco was one of the most important drugs to come out of the New World. Sir Walter Raleigh brought dried tobacco leaves to England. They were heavily taxed and controlled there. The risky, but extremely profitable, voyage across the Atlantic was fraught with addiction.

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The Continued Spreading of Addictive Substances

Opium eventually reached China and was traded by the Chinese with British, French, and Dutch traders. It began arriving in large quantities in Europe and America in the late 17th-century, which quickly became a problem.

Traders could travel anywhere on the planet with improved ships that could transport more cargo. They could also bring back any goods they had. Drugs were rampant in middle and upper class society without any control. The poor were not better off. In Europe, particularly in Britain, Gin had become a problem due to poorly-thought-out laws. In the Americas, Cannabis, Rum and Beer were becoming a problem for colonists.

Although doctors worldwide were well aware of the benefits of opium in dulling pain, the problem really began when morphine was isolated from opium in 1804. In 1827, morphine was first commercially available. It quickly rose in popularity, especially after the 1853 introduction of the hypodermic needle. It was easy to make and sell, with few effective controls. The American Civil War helped it quickly reach epidemic proportions in the United States. According to Time’s The Civil War, An Illustrated History, around 45,000 soldiers returned from that war ineffectively functioning without morphine. Similar results were observed in the Franco–Prussian wars between France & Germany.

Drug abuse became so common in the latter half of the 19th Century that Britain went to war with China twice to protect opium trade routes. These were known as the Opium Wars. In 1884, cocaine was isolated and quickly became another drug of abuse. Heroin and other opioids were synthesized to be non-addictive alternatives for morphine. Heroin was addictive and more people began to abuse it.

Increasing drug and chemical development in the 20th Century led to more drugs that could be misused. LSD, methamphetamine, and synthetic opiates all are relatively new drugs. Drug laws were made more strict to combat the rising tide of addiction. This led to drug addiction being a social stigma.

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