For as long as drugs have been around people have used them, abused them, and faced addiction. Even ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks all show signs of using different substances. Native Americans have been using peyote for spiritual and ritual reasons for thousands of years. The concept of addiction treatment, drug rehab and recovery has been around in America since before it was even the United States.
1750 – 1800s: Colonists, Native Americans & Addiction
Native Americans knew about alcohol but the idea of drinking recreationally was something introduced by European colonists. Colonists would trade wine and distilled spirits to Native Americans for land and other resources. Eventually senior tribesmen started to see and understand the alcoholism that was plaguing their tribes. They encouraged their people to use their heritage and the help of ‘sobriety circles.” Using the idea of something larger than the self as a way to provide some focus on how to overcome the temptation to drink, similar to how modern Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step groups espouse the concept of a “higher power” from which addicts can draw the strength it requires to abstain.
1784 – 1810: Dr. Rush & Alcohol Addiction
One of America’s Founding Fathers, Dr. Benjamin Rush, brought the idea that alcoholism is a disease to light in his writings in Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind and Body, in 1784. He noted the effects and said that it opened the body up to many other diseases. He advocated that successful treatment of alcoholism would require drinkers to be weaned off their substances of consumption, as opposed to methods that we now would understand to be harmful. In 1810 he called for the creation of Sober Houses to care for these people. He thought that alcoholics should be sequestered in these sober houses until they could safely reenter society.
1879: The Start of Drug Rehab
Dr. Leslie Keeley claims that he can cure alcoholism and opens more than 120 institutes across the United States. One of his ideas was a 31-day stay in a treatment center that offered healthy food, exercise, and fresh air. This was very influential in fashioning the approaches of modern-day rehabilitation facilities: providing a secure, comfortable, and healthy place for recovering addicts to learn how to live without their chemical crutches. The Keeley Institutes, as they were so called, became so popular that from 1879 to 1965, there were more than 200 facilities across the United States and Europe.
1935 & 1939: Founding of AA
Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith met and founded Alcoholics Anonymous. They came up with the 12 – step program which remains a key element in recovery. It offers addicts mental, emotional, and societal rehabilitation while keeping member confidentiality and anonymity. This model spawned other similar and more direct anonymous groups for narcotics, cocaine, gamblers, and other groups. In 1939 the book Alcoholic Anonymous is published.
1964 – 1975: Insurance & Addiction Treatment
The insurance industry begins to reimburse the treatment of alcoholism on par with the treatment of other illnesses. This leads to a dramatic expansion in private and hospital-based inpatient treatment programs.
The Association of Labor-Management Administrators and Consultants on Alcoholism, now known as the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, meets for the first time.
The Food and Drug Administration approves use of methadone for treating heroin addiction.
1980s – MADD is formed
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is formed in 1980. Cocaine Anonymous is founded in 1982. The American Medical Association calls all drug dependencies diseases whose treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice in 1987. The first specialized “drug court” is started by Miami Judge Stanley Goldstein in 1989. It will spur a national movement to link addicted, non-violent offenders to treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
1990s – Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
The growth of the internet leads to a proliferation of online recovery support groups and services, creating a virtual recovering community without geographical boundaries. In 1992, The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment is created to expand the availability and quality of addiction treatment. These are just a few of the major milestones in addiction treatment and recovery. There is of course many other milestones that weren’t mentioned and many other influential people. The understanding of addiction and substance abuse is an ever evolving idea. With more research and more people looking for the help instead of incarceration of drug users, people are now getting the much needed help they need. There is still more strides that need to be made to get everyone the help they need but we sure have come a long way since 1750.