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History of Drugs: Addiction Treatment


Believe it or not addiction treatment is not a new idea. Addiction treatment actually started in 19th century America. With it came more understanding and also some really wacky ideas about how to solve the problem of drug addiction and alcoholism

The early 19th century and 1800s:

Scary Fact: Addiction treatment was everything you saw in horror movies back in the day. This famous addiction treatment, “discovered” by demagogue and Civil War surgeon Leslie Keeley in 1879, involved daily injections and oral medication, as well as a 31-day stay in a treatment center that emphasized healthy food, exercise and fresh air. While the treatment center stay was reasonable enough, the injections and “tonics” were extremely dangerous. Keeley alleged that his treatment was made of “double chloride of gold”—but it was reported by various sources to actually contain coca, morphine, strychnine, arsenic or an extract of the deadly nightshade plant, as well as other, slightly less deadly but still-powerful medicines. Keeley claimed a 95% cure rate on this treatment.

The idea of rehabilitating or fixing addictive behavior has existed since the beginning of the early temperance movement in 19th-century America. This movement, which began in the 1800s, gave rise to the ideas we have now of addiction and the need for our society to help with the suffering of its addicts.

The temperance movement was a movement that was all for abstinence. The goal of the temperance movement was a complete disuse of substance and in this case that meant alcohol. The organization gave birth to the first rehab centers in the United States, called “sober houses,” where men lived collectively, isolated away from the temptations of the world. Sober houses were set up as early as 1840 in cities like Boston and New York by the Washingtonian society, a branch of the temperance movement. The temperance movement began to focus on the general public. If society could be free of alcohol, they reasoned, and then it could then be free of alcoholics.


Prohibition in the 1920s:

The temperance movement helped to get the Prohibition Act — the law that outlawed the sale, possession or consumption of alcohol in the United States — passed in 1920. But American society as a whole wasn’t prepared to give up its booze, and the law was repealed 13 years later. The experiment had a lasting effect: If America couldn’t provide its alcoholics with a country free of temptation, alcoholics needed a refuge within the larger society where they could be free from the temptation of alcohol: addiction treatment.

Eventually providing treatment for addicts was taken from the hands of goodwill societies and placed in the trust of the medical field. As medical science came to play a larger role in caring for the world’s addicts, treatment came to be moved into more of a clinical setting. Rehabilitation now took place in hospitals, psychiatric wards and sanitariums. And here is where we start to see a whole new slew of scary treatments emerge.

A scary fact: By the 1950s, treatment of addicts had generally fallen into the hands of prisons and asylums for the insane, which—as any horror movie aficionado knows—were hotbeds of medical experimentation. The Colorado State Penitentiary developed a cure for addiction to narcotics that would fit right into one of those movies: to treat addicts in the prison population, doctors would create blisters on the addict’s stomach, remove fluid from the blisters with a hypodermic needle, and then re-inject that fluid into the addict’s arm. This was repeated four to five times per day for just under a week.

This isn’t the only contribution that temperance movement made to the modern ways of addiction treatment. It also gave rise to fraternal organizations, like the International Order of the Good Templars, which served in part as support groups. These groups set the stage for America’s first organized support-group treatment program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Cofounded by Robert Smith and Bill Wilson (Dr. Bob and Bill W.) in 1935, AA created the 12-step program. Many alcohol and addicts as well as addiction treatment centers utilize what Dr. Bob and Bill W created in 1935.


20th Century Addiction Treatment:

Throughout the 20th century, thanks to the success and popularity of programs like AA, it became clear that addiction treatment programs were an actual solution to the nation’s substance-abuse problems. As a result, President Richard Nixon was the first commander in chief to create federal funding for treatment programs. The budget for his antidrug policy, which would serve as the origins of the War on Drugs, was split up, with one-third going towards getting rid of the dealers or supply (police enforcement), and two-thirds toward getting rid of the demand addicts had for it (treatment). When the next president came up, President Gerald Ford, he cut the budget for federal funding of addiction treatment programs, making the division fifty-fifty.

Addiction treatment in the 80s:

In the 1980s, the idea of private residential treatment facilities mushroomed. The peak of the War on Drugs fueled fears of addiction, and fueled the demand for addiction treatment. Interestingly, as the War on Drugs was showing a major effect on reducing drug usage in the United States, the use of rehab facilities in the country continued to increase.

Addiction treatment today:

As we all know addiction treatment today has come a long way from where it was but it also has a long way to go. Not only does it have a long way to go when it comes to paying for it but also a long way to go in figuring out exactly how to treat addiction and alcoholism. Not only that, but addiction treatment today has had to shoulder the burden of a prescription pain pill epidemic also. Luckily, the science and the psychology are far more advanced to handle addicts and alcoholics as well as the medications and therapies used in detox. Not only that but the programs such as AA are still around and working in the lives of many alcoholics and addicts.

If you or your loved one is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.




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