The History of Addiction Treatment

The use of addictive substances can be traced back to the earliest human records. In fact, pathological use was described and discussed as early as classical Antiquity, while many problems associated with substance abuse that we are facing today were first observed in the 17th century.1 The history of addiction treatment stems back ages and ages, but new techniques and ways have developed it into a newer and younger field. Most treatments and therapeutic techniques used today were developed in just the last few decades, such as addiction treatments we use here at our rehab facility.

Substance Abuse in Ancient Times

Addictive substances were discovered so long ago that addiction followed not long after that. But it was perhaps Aristotle who first discussed addiction. He did not see it as a disease but rather an “incontinence of will” and a deficiency of character. The nuances of Aristotle’s argument are greatly deliberated, but the takeaway is that addiction has been part of the human condition since ancient times, though the treatment of addiction in ancient times was not as sympathetic as it is in today’s world.

The 19th Century Addiction Treatments

When alcohol addiction became a pressing issue in the 19th century, a variety of solutions were devised to contain the problem. These solutions were heavily dependent on the person’s social status. The poor were treated by being put in jail, insane asylums, and almshouses (charitable houses for the poor.) There were private hospitals, but they typically refused to take the patients in as it was seen as a waste of resources. For the rich, it was a different story. They could get away with home confinement or receive private treatment that gave them a far better chance at recovery.

The Emergence of Addiction Treatments

The first drug treatment center opened in the 1930s. Known as the US Narcotic Farm, its first patients were jazz musicians trying to get over opioid addictions. The center’s approach to treatment was considered unconventional at the time. Addiction was viewed as the result of idleness, so patients were encouraged to work hard, play music, and spend more time creating art. Those who participated in addiction experiments were paid with morphine.

When Was Alcoholics Anonymous Formed?

It was about the same in the mid-20th century when Alcoholics Anonymous was formed. The four founding members were Bill Wilson, Rowland Hazard, Ebby Thatcher, and Dr. Bob Smith. Two of the members were alcoholics who were unable to sustain abstinence despite being Christians and members of the Christian organization called the Oxford Group. They published the famous blue book, including the 12-step program called Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1939.

AA’s success can be attributed to its welcoming environment, where patients can find emotional, spiritual, and mental support while keeping the members’ anonymity. From this model, other groups for narcotics, such as cocaine, opioids, and more, were formed.

The Modern Rehab Era We All Know

It was only in recent years that modern treatment and rehabilitation as we know it emerged. But scientific research – that looks into the causes, optimal treatment, and recovery – continues. Currently, rehabilitation operates on the theory that substance abuse alters the brain’s chemistry which leads to behavioral changes and physical dependence. Rehabs have begun to offer a variety of approaches to treatment, such as:

Recover With Our Rehabilitation Center

At Legacy Healing Center, with our knowledge of the history of addiction, our staff of professional medical experts is here to help you or a loved one through the steps on the road to recovery. Addiction treatment has evolved and continues to evolve and help those affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Our rehab facility is here with the help you need.

For more information about our levels of care and other therapy programs, call Legacy Healing Center today at (888)-534-2295.


1 – NIH –  Historical and cultural aspects of man’s relationship with addictive drugs

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About the Author
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Jeffrey Juergens

Jeff Juergens is a leading author in the addiction and recovery field, dedicating the last seven years of his life to helping those struggling with substance use issues find the help that they need. Jeff's work has been used in rehabs across the country as tools to help patients achieve sobriety.

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Edwin Gomez

Edwin Gomez, M.D. joined the Legacy Healing Centers Medical Team in 2021. In addition to working at Legacy Healing Centers, Dr. Gomez operates a private practice and research here in the South Florida Area and the Florida Keys. Prior to joining Legacy Healing Center, he served as Medical Dire...