history of rehab
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A Brief History of Addiction Treatment & Rehab

We’re fortunate today to have the benefit of hindsight and decades of research. With our knowledge comes more effective treatments and the saving of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of lives. However, there are still many miles left to go. We may have a thorough understanding of the disease of addiction, but we’ve still barely scratched the surface. Today’s researchers and behavioral scientists are asking new questions, searching for ways to identify susceptibility to addiction before it even develops. If we become able to identify those who are more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs due to some biological or genetic trait, we can begin stopping the disease before it develops.

Our science and advancements are a relatively new luxury. Just a couple centuries ago — and even as recent as a few decades — addiction was very poorly understood. Those who suffered from chemical or behavioral dependencies were treated inefficiently and oftentimes very inhumanely. In recognition of the progress we’ve made and the remaining progress to be made, the following is a brief timeline or history of addiction treatment and rehabs.

Early Treatment of Addiction: Prisons & Asylums

Substances such as alcohol, tobacco, opium, and marijuana aren’t new to today’s advanced societies. Alcohol has been made for thousands of years, opium has a long history of use and misuse, hallucinogens have historically been part of many cultures’ religious rites, and tobacco and marijuana have long been enjoyed recreationally. Although the use of these substances is a very old pastime, it’s only within the past few centuries that the idea of addiction was really considered. However, the historical concept of chemical dependence differs greatly from today’s concept of addiction.

Rather than being a disease or even a behavioral disorder, addiction was explained as such things as demonic possession, psychosis, and sin. Addicts were often relegated to imprisonment in asylums or prisons where they endured inhumane punishments with absolutely zero therapeutic value. At the time, it was thought that the most effective way to cure a mental or emotional disorder was through some sort of surgical procedure, oftentimes involving opening the skull to gain direct access to the brain. Lobotomies were a go-to procedure during this time as well since psychological problems were thought to be the result of a brain problem that could be corrected surgically. Instead of being helped, addicts were punished as a means of purging them of their sinful impulses, achieved through exorcism, a variety of different torture methods, reckless surgical procedures, and life imprisonment.

Mutual Aid & Addiction as Moral Failing

Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a shift in public perceptions of addiction and many other disorders of the mind and behavior. With problematic drinking behavior becoming more common and socially noticeable, alcoholics and addicts weren’t simply thrown into jail or locked up in insane asylums. Even the highest members of society were showing signs of drinking and drug problems, making it difficult to treat them with the same methods that had previously been used on the common man. In short, the social repercussions of substance abuse and dependency were affecting more and more people and had become the main concern, rather than simply attributing these behaviors to possession or lunacy.  Therefore, the new consensus was that those who were addicted to alcohol or drugs were sinners in need of God and prayer.

This shift in public perception coincided with a number of mutual aid fellowships and religious support groups that offered individuals relief from drinking and drug problems through prayer. Support groups had already been common among Native American tribes, who would assemble these so-called “circles” around those in need to offer them an encouraging support network. Elsewhere in America, the temperance movement began as an organized effort to encourage individuals to drink in moderation rather than to excess; this movement was largely organized by women and mothers who had borne the brunt of their husbands’ drunken anger. In fact, Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s grew out of the temperance movement as well as the gambling, drug use, and other so-called “social ills” that had grown to be a major cultural nuisance at the time. By the 1920s, the Oxford Group began as an early Christian support group for those in need of self-improvement or aid in overcoming personal problems like drinking.

The Disease Model & Today’s Addiction Treatment

In the wake of the Oxford Group, Alcoholics Anonymous was started in 1935 and originated the world-renowned Twelve Steps. Instead of being a religious-based fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous was a spiritual mutual aid fellowship, allowing individuals to incorporate their own beliefs into a spiritually-oriented recovery process. Moreover, Alcoholics Anonymous differed with the perception that addiction was a moral failing and, instead, acknowledged it as a mental, physical, and spiritual form of suffering. Since its creation, the twelve-step method has been adapted for use in many different types of addiction and has helped millions upon millions of individuals become and remain sober.

In more recent decades, a more refined and enlightened understanding of addiction developed, referred to as the disease model of addiction. According to the model, addiction is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain caused by altered functioning and structure of the brain and characterized by an individual’s tendency to obsessively and compulsively indulge in substances or behaviors, even when it may result in negative consequences. With this new understanding, addiction treatment became much more clinical with countless addiction treatment centers and alcohol and drug rehabs appearing all over the country.

These facilities offer addiction recovery programs that treat dependency as both a physical and psychological illness with a strong basis on individual and group counseling. Although these programs are considered to be the most effective means of overcoming addiction that is available to us currently, we continue to research the disease in the hope of finding ways to identify addiction susceptibility and prevent the disease before it develops.

Find Peace in Recovery with Drug Treatment Center Finder

Addiction is a very lonely and potentially fatal disease. Over the course of centuries, millions upon millions of individuals have lost their lives as a direct result of this deadly yet treatable condition. Fortunately, there’s help available to those in need. For a free consultation and assessment, call Drug Treatment Center Finder and speak with one of our experienced recovery specialists. Our team cares about each one of our patients and is available to help individuals who are suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. One phone call can begin your journey back to health and happiness.