A Brief History of Addiction Treatment

A Brief History of Addiction Treatment

Addiction is as old as the human race. Unfortunately, for as long as we know, people have been seeking a way to alter their state of mind with nature’s plants, alcohol, and illegal drugs. For nearly just as long, people have also been trying to find various cures for addiction. As one can imagine, some of the earlier methods in the history of addiction treatment were less than pleasant.

It’s a good thing that we exist in today’s world where compassionate care is available. While we don’t know everything about how it was treated all the way back in the day, there are a decent number of reports of treatment methods from the last 300 years.

History of Addiction Treatment Methods

Psychology is a relatively newfound medical field. It still has a lot of kinks to be worked out, but it has come a long way. Addiction is generally thought of to fall under the category of psychology, so the two have held many similarities. Alcoholism was one of the first addictions to be treated, most likely because it has been around for quite some time.

Anthony Benezet published the first essay ever published about alcoholism in America in 1774. It was called The Mighty Destroyer. In 1784, ten years later, A Doctor Benjamin Rush wrote the Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind about the problems with chronic alcohol abuse. He made the point that physicians should treat alcoholism. By 1810, he wanted there to be a sober house created for people who couldn’t deal with alcoholism on their own.

In the background of people like Dr. Rush and Dr. Benezet, were a number of people trying out various – and disturbing by today’s standards – treatments for addiction. Here are five treatments that were notable:

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is the practice of creating an aversion to a substance, in this case, drugs or alcohol. It’s still a therapy that is used today, but on different terms. Today, drugs like Naltrexone, Campral, and Antabuse and used to diminish cravings and keep relapse at bay. In the old days, doctors would have a patient drink and follow that with punishments that were often physical, like electric shocks.

The Keeley Cure

In 1879, a Civil War surgeon names Leslie Keeley treated addiction with this type of treatment. It involved daily medications and injections, which were often a lethal cocktail of drugs that had addictive qualities themselves. Side effects were frequent, and they ranged from mild adverse effects to the drugs given to relapse, further addiction, and even death.

Morphine Treatment

Morphine was overused throughout our history. When it first came onto the market, it was believed that it wasn’t addictive and could be used to treat all kinds of disorders. Many doctors took it to be a treatment for alcoholism. When the fact that it was addicting came to light, doctors thought that morphine addiction would be better as an alternative to alcoholism. They claimed it was less harmful and destructive. Little did they know the opioid epidemic we would be fighting today.


This scary process was used as recently as within the last 100 years. It peaked in popularity in the 1950s as a treatment for addiction and all kinds of other mental disorders. Lobotomy involved a surgical operation that involved cutting into the brain, often through the nose. Unpleasant? Absolutely. Did it work? Not at all. This method was quickly dismissed as having no effect on addiction.

The History of Addiction Treatment Isn’t Pleasant, but We’ve Come a Very Long Way

While many of these methods are frightening and hard to imagine, the one thing we can thank them for is getting addiction treatment to where it is today. These days, we have medication that is known to work to help addicts in recovery, and therapeutic and holistic methods have been known to work wonders. The effective treatment combines a well-rounded approach using all of those methods.

When a person goes to treatment, their best interest is what matters. Gone are the days of experimental treatments. Proper care means combining trusted and true methods with cutting edge treatments to figure out what works best for each individual person. Addiction and its treatment are enormously individual, and the compassionate care that is administered needs to be too.

In rehab, clients can expect:

  •      Individual therapy
  •      Group therapy
  •      Nutrition counseling
  •      Trauma therapy
  •      Appropriate medication and supplements for your needs
  •      Alternative therapies like EMDR and DBT
  •      Support
  •      Self-Care

Addiction treatment is a time to learn as much as a person can about himself or herself so that they can work towards a bright future.

Addiction Treatment Should Be Welcomed, Not Feared

When a person is in active addiction, treatment is the best thing that can happen. People often fear treatment because it is stepping into the unknown. It’s important to look at rehab as a step towards growth and recovery and not as an admission that the addiction has won.

Addiction only wins if you let it. The worst thing a person can do is keep making the same mistakes over and over. Change is healthy and growth is good.

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