A Horrifying History: A Day in Rehab Long Ago

rehab history

Are you in Rehab? You have it better than you think

The history of addiction treatment is a long, dark and somewhat, no actually TOTALLY, frightening road. You see, back in the day the treatment for addiction and alcoholism was neither nearly as “nice” nor as “comfortable” as it is today. Back in the day the treatment for addiction and alcoholism was really whatever people could come up with that may just work to treat it. Sounds pretty reliable right? We wish.

Efforts to treat alcoholism and addiction led many addicts and alcoholics to do many things that were worse than drinking.

Can you imagine?

Just imagine you’re an alcoholic and you go to see the doctor for treatment. One of the many things they might have you do to start off, is drink your own urine. Or maybe you’d like the wine in which an eel had been suffocated? How about dosed with mole blood or sparrow dung?

There was also the Swedish Treatment, which sounds a bit better, at least initially. Maybe you’ll go for that (as if you had a choice back then.) But all the Swedish treatment was, was a treatment in which everything you would be allowed to consume had to be whiskey while also having your clothes and bedding saturated in it. I don’t know what is Swedish about being saturated and forced to drink whiskey, but the name was slightly misleading. . .

If none of that sounded good to you, you could go through a round of dietary treatments that includes apple, salt, grape, banana, onion and watermelon “cures.” And if you were really bold you may even be fed gold, iron, or bark to quell your appetite for alcohol.

More Harm Than Good

The harm that has been done in the name of trying to help us alcoholic and addicted people is one that has continue on for quite a long time. Even Dr. Benjamin Rush who fathered and pioneered the disease concept of alcoholism, treated alcoholics by blistering, bleeding and unknowingly poisoning them with mercury-laden medicines. In the 19th century alcoholics and addicts were often prescribed a new addiction or fuel for their first one. How you may ask? They were prescribed alcohol, narcotics, marijuana, sedatives, stimulants and hallucinogens. Dr. JB Bently prescribed cocaine by THE POUND as a treatmet for alcohol and morphine addiction.

There were Abromide sleep treatments for narcotic withdrawal that killed 20% of patients undergoing the procedure. There was a physician who, noting that alcohol intake decreased among his patients suffering active stages of gonorrhea, recommended, ON PURPOSE infecting them with it.

It Gets Worse

And while all of this is horrible, it only gets worse. Through the first half of the 20th century alcoholics and addicts were subjected to legally mandated sterilization on the grounds that it would prevent birth of future generations of alcoholics and could treat the underlying physical causes of alcoholism. There were even early 20th century Aserum therapies that involved raising blisters on the addict’s skin, withdrawing the goop from the blisters and then injecting this into the addict during their withdrawal. Yep, yep that happened. There were also some withdrawal therapies in the 1930s where they would just put you into a psychosis for months on end.

It got possibly, maybe, kind of, a little better in the 40s and 50s? I mean that is if electroconvulsive and insulin shock therapies sound better. There were also prefrontal lobotomies, and the use of methamphetamine as well as heroin to treat alcoholism.

An Old Concept with New Treatments: Thank God We Have the Treatment We Do Today

And while, THANK GOD, we have a new understanding on how to treat the disease of alcoholism and addiction, the disease concept itself isn’t anything new. In fact the disease concept was brought up as early as 1784 when Benjamin Rush, the Surgeon general of George Washington’s revolutionary armies, in a pamphlet called for “total abstinence” and said that “intemperance was a disease.” While he didn’t know how to treat alcoholism, obviously, with his blood letting and massive doses of medicine, he was onto something.

And luckily for those of us today, we have treatment that looks much different and a disease concept that is much more widely understood (it’s a continual work in progress.)

We are so lucky to be in the day and age that we are today, where it is understood that we have a disease and there is some understanding on how to treat it, with safe medication, behavioral therapies, and things like 12 step programs. Anyways, I just thought this article might make you feel a little grateful to at least be where you are today, even if it is in treatment.

Because, hey, at least you aren’t in the 1800s having someone force-feed you whiskey till you are basically drowning in it, or ya know, performing brain surgery on you. You’re in a safe, warm bed, with great understanding therapists, who at most are going to tell you some uncomfortable truths about yourself. Yay FOR MODERN DAY SCIENCE AND THERAPY!

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