From Past to Present: How Our Views on Addiction Recovery Have Changed Over Time

man lying on side on ground


Our understanding of addiction has changed over many years, and the English language had established a perspective on addiction well before the time of Shakespeare. Originally, addiction was not regarded in terms of medical or morality, but rather of being strongly devoted to an activity or occupation – an attachment or compulsion. As a study titled “Historical and Cultural Aspects of Man’s Relationship with Addictive Drugs” notated, addictive psychoactive substances have been recorded as used by 1) priests in religious ceremonies, 2) healers for medicinal purposes, or 3) the general population in an approved way, such as with nicotine or caffeine. By the 17th century, perspectives of addiction shifted more towards a loss of control over substances.

Excessive alcohol use was considered a major problem in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian and Founding Father of the United States’ Benjamin Rush’s published work helping launch the beginning of the temperance movement. This served as a social movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The 1800’s perspective then shifted towards those with addiction as those with moral and mental instability – leading many to be sent to insane asylums, city drunk tanks, and public hospitals. This perspective continued into the 1900’s; those with addiction were considered feeble-minded and outcasts to society. However, as a book titled “Pathways of Addiction: Opportunities in Drug Abuse Research” notes, more research was emerging that aimed towards a perspective of addiction as a medical disease; naturally, this caused quite a debate.

In the late 1900’s, the Drug Abuse Survey Project initiated the gaps of addiction research, such as basic knowledge of how drugs affect the body, psychological factors in drug use, the role of drugs in contemporary American society, and more, ultimately sparking further research in the field. In 1952, the American Medical Association defined alcoholism as “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing the condition’s prognosis.” By this time, more self-help organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and more were being initiated.

By the 2000s, buprenorphine was approved by the FDA for clinical use, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded coverage of insurance for those who needed substance abuse treatment. As you can see, our society’s perspectives on addiction have shifted from one of morality or medical, one of vulnerability or psychology, to one of regulation or free availability. Thankfully, research has opened pathways for more and more people to seek help in a humane way – making treatment an excellent option.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse recovery center. We offer dual diagnosis treatment, so if you are experiencing both substance abuse and symptoms of a mental disorder, call us today at 888-743-0490 so that we can work with you to restore your happiness, health, and well-being. You do not have to continue living this way; there are many people here ready to help you.