What Is The History of Addiction and Substance Abuse

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History - Addiction - The Hills

The use of substances such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and other opioids has roots as far back as the Bible. The use of various substances is well documented in medical texts written by ancient Syrians and the Chinese.

Addiction has a long history both here in the United States and throughout the civilized world. Look back through the history of addiction and addiction treated here in America is an interesting walk through decades of changing opinions and attitudes towards addiction and how those who struggle with substance use are treated.


Since humans first walked the planet, the consumption of alcohol has been considered an acceptable way to pass the time and socialize among comrades. Intoxication, however, has always been demonized. Even ancient Egyptians, Plato, and Aristotle cautioned against excessive drinking. Among current religious practices, alcohol in moderation is considered acceptable, but intoxication is generally considered a sin.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, more and more people developed an addiction to alcohol. So much so that in 1849 the term alcoholism was first coined. As years went on, the activities of anti-alcohol groups such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union led to the banning of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, otherwise known as Prohibition.

During the thirteen years of Prohibition, it became very difficult for individuals to find assistance in overcoming alcohol addiction. This resulted in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

Today, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Currently, nearly eighteen million people (of all ages) suffer from alcohol use disorder, and several million others engage in binge drinking patters, which could eventually lead to addiction and dependence in the future.


Opioids are a term that encompasses many different substances, including street drugs such as opium and heroin, to prescription pain medications such as OxyContin. Opioids were first introduced to the New World in 1620 when they arrived here on the Mayflower. In later years, a solution consisting of alcohol and opium was used to treat pain on the battlefields during the Revolutionary War. By the mid-1800s, opium was a key ingredient in many over-the-counter remedies, including tonics used to treat “female problems.” Consequently, middle and upper-class women were the demographic most affected by opioid addiction at this time. It wasn’t until the concept of smoking opium was introduced by Chinese laborers who came to American to work on the railroads that addiction became widespread among American men as well. Morphine use became prevalent during the Civil War when injectable Morphine was used to treat wounds and pain on the battlefields.

The use of heroin and other opioid drugs continued through the 1900s and into the early 2000s when people began to take notice of the growing number of people addicted to opiates. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, by 2013, over 207 million prescriptions for opioid pain killers were being written each year. In response to the growing addiction problems and the drastic increase in accidental overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010, the federal government enacted a variety of measures designed to reduce opiate abuse in the United States.

In recent years, these measures have made it challenging to find opioid pain killers on the street and inflation in their prices. As a result, many who are addicted to them have turned to heroin, which is easier to find and less expensive. Today, opioid addiction is considered an epidemic by the government. It is currently working to reduce the stigmas associated with addiction and improve access to treatment for the approximately 2.5 million people who struggle with addiction to these substances.


A German chemist first produced cocaine in 1859. Cocaine very quickly found popularity as a miracle cure for many common ailments and, for many years, was sold as part of many over-the-counter remedies. In 1886 Coca-Cola was laced with cocaine and sold as a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage.” Over the decades, many famous writers and inventors, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Edison, Sigmund Freud, and even President William McKinley, praised the dug.

However, the nation’s love of this wonder drug ended almost as quickly as it began when its use led to scores of deaths and psychosis incidents. By 1902, it is estimated that 200,000 people were addicted to cocaine, and in 1903 it was removed from Coca-cola under pressure from the public. Eventually, it was outlawed in 1914 when the Harrison Act was enacted.

In the 1970s, cocaine again gained popularity when it became an integral part of club and pop culture. The list of prominent celebrities who have addressed their addiction to cocaine over the years is quite long. Cocaine use peaked at 10.4 million (reported) users in the early 1980s. Today, the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates approximately 900,000 Americans are addicted to cocaine.


Between the early 17th century and the end of the civil war, cannabis was widely grown for hemp. These hemp fibers were used to make products such as fabric, paper, and ropes. After the civil war, other materials replaced hemp, but marijuana remained a popular ingredient in several over-the-counter medicinal products.

After the Mexican Revolution, Americans were introduced to marijuana for recreational use by immigrants to the states. This lasted for a time until the Great Depression when anti-immigrant sentiments led to escalating concerns about marijuana use. By 1931 the drug had been (questionably according to some) linked to violence and crime and had been outlawed in 29 states.

Marijuana was eventually criminalized through the introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. By the 1950s, several laws had been passed that resulted in mandatory jail sentences for first-offense marijuana possession.

Between the ’60s and today, the legal status of marijuana has changed several times and still varies from state to state. Today, marijuana is the second most commonly used drug after alcohol, with approximately 38% of Americans saying they have tried marijuana. Sixteen states have recently decriminalized marijuana use, and 26 states allow the drug to be sold and consumed for medical purposes. Also, at this time, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Addiction treatment over time

In Therapy - Addiction - The Hills

Addiction treatments have changed over the years, almost as frequently as people’s opinions on drugs. Treatments for addiction in the 19th century and into the mid 20th century were considered barbaric by many. Also, it was believed that alcoholism and addiction were incurable and passed down through the generations, getting worse with each generation. During these times, a number of politicians proposed legislation that would forbid marriage and require sterilization of people who were addicted to alcohol in order to “save the next generation” from its evils. By 1922, fifteen states had passed such laws, and even states that didn’t require uncivilized sterilization procedures pressured institutionalized alcoholics to undergo the procedure.

By the 1950s ending alcoholism was considered a “job” for prisons and insane asylums. Between 1948 and 1952, frontal lobotomy was used as a treatment for those addicted to narcotics. Fortunately, this practice was discontinued when it was found to be ineffective.

Today, addiction is widely considered to be a chronic and relapsing disease of the brain, which requires medical attention; however, this wasn’t always the case. Addiction has been attributed to spiritual failings, hereditary issues, and even demonic possession.

Although the personal choice is initially a factor for drinking and or using drugs, once brain function changes as a result of chronic abuse, the choice is no longer an option. Experts define addiction as a compulsive use of substances despite known negative consequences. The addicted brain becomes wired to seek out drugs no matter what. However, much like any other chronic disease, with comprehensive treatment such as what is offered at The Hills, healthy brain function can often be restored, and addiction can be sent into remission.

Modern, high-quality, comprehensive treatment programs often take a holistic approach to treatment that addresses issues of the mind, body, and spirit. These issues may include legal or financial troubles, medical problems, mental illness, and family and relationship problems. Treatment is designed to address all of the needs of an induvial.

Therapy is at the core of most current treatment programs. Psychotherapy models such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and other traditional (and alternative) therapies teach patients to evaluate their negative thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. They learn to replace negative with healthier and more productive practices. Treatment is also designed to help people develop new and useful skills and strategies for coping with triggers such as stress, cravings, and high-risk situations. Through comprehensive and individually tailored therapy, patients improved self-esteem and make meaningful lifestyle changes that promote long-term success and recovery.

At The Hills, we know that no single treatment is right for every individual. There are several different paths to recovery, and each person will require different types of therapies, interventions, and services to treat their addiction successfully. Staying in treatment for an adequate period is also essential to success. This means it is imperative that you do your research when selecting a treatment program to ensure it will meet your needs. Most research shows that longer duration treatments are more successful than shorter programs or programs from which a person drops out.

If you are struggling with addiction and are ready to put the struggle behind you, contact The Hills in Los Angeles, California, today. Our individually designed treatment plans are created with your specific needs and addiction in mind. Overcoming addiction is not easy. Choosing to enter treatment is only the first (yet most challenging) step. Let us help you take that first step towards a substance-free life. Tour the Hills Treatment Center and learn more about the California luxury addiction and substance abuse treatment programs.

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