The history of humankind is intertwined with the history of addictions and addiction treatment. Since the rise of the first human civilizations, people have tried using different psychoactive substances for various purposes.

Nowadays, many people wouldn't say no to a glass of wine or a cigarette. The means of consumption and the substances we consume might have changed, but we are still following the long tradition of using drugs.

Accordingly, how drug-dependency can be overcome today is the result of years of growth and evolution. From our perspective, we may not perceive methods used in the 19th century as the right ones. Nonetheless, they laid the foundations for modern addiction treatment facilities. According to the Addiction Recovery Centre, in order to overcome addiction, it's important to learn the science behind it.

In this article, we sketch a timeline of addiction treatment and substance abuse. If you wish to learn more on this topic, read on.

Ancient Times

Humankind started to use psychoactive substances from the earliest stages of human civilization. Various domestication processes around the age of 12000 BC had led to a very important discovery: when some plants were crushed, they gave off a scent that made them pleasant to use. The most typical examples are some species of papaver and poppies.

Many people of the Middle East started using the opium poppy for medical purposes. It is believed that Egyptians appreciated poppy's effects as early as 1500 BC. After some time, they discovered opium's sedative effects since it helps the body handle pain and regulates the immune system. Later on, people started using opium for enjoyment as well. 

Also, ancient Greeks used opium mixed with wine and water for medical purposes. It was used to treat a wide variety of illnesses, including intestinal and gastric problems. Discoveries uncovering new uses of opium continued until the 5th century BC when it reached China and India through trade roads and wars. 


Treatment methods had been changing over time, along with discoveries about different kinds of substances that people used for different purposes throughout history. From 1500 BC up until the 19th century, the human mind experienced profound changes.

From Asia Minor to Western Europe and South America; people thought it could cure diseases or even serve as an energy source when fighting. 

Furthermore, alcoholism was first described surprisingly recently (in 1852). While wine had been mentioned as early as 4000 BC, alcohol addiction was defined only 170 years ago by Magnus Huss in the publication "Alcolismus chronicus". 

The approaches against alcohol abuse in the 19th century reached no significant results. Humankind was not aware of how to deal with substance addiction. Treatments that seemed to work were mostly local solutions rather than universally valid ones. 

Is it possible to stop drinking completely? How to stop drinking once and for all? Not only did people experience a lack of knowledge about substance abuse, they also struggled with an inadequate approach towards treating it too. 

Early efforts towards drug dependency recovery can be traced back to China and Ecuador, where ayahuasca has been administered in order to cure ailments like epilepsy and vomiting. 

Prohibition Era (1920 - 1933)

The prohibition era is considered to be one of the most failed experiments at preventing alcohol abuse, not only in the United States but also in the entire world. Indeed, the typical phenomenon of prohibition increases alcohol production and consumption. This is consistent with the claim of the opponents of the "War on Drugs" that it is very easy to find substances in areas where they are forbidden. 

In Europe, the commercial availability of legal psychoactive substances has been shown to be an important factor in their use, but not in the way one could expect. Substance abuse was actually less likely if a certain drug was legal and widely available.

It can be argued that prohibition was doomed to fail because it was based on misinformation. The prohibitionist approach is based on a simplistic morality, which portrays drug use as violating the superior interests of humans. 

Third, at a more fundamental level, it is important to consider how prohibition contributes to the "drugs-are-evil" attitude. Most people who use illicit drugs actually do so because they are curious and seek pleasure, but fear of punishment leads them to suppress those desires. 

A major function of prohibition is thus to make individuals feel guilty about what they are doing and force them to act against their own desires. However, if harmful drugs were prescribed by physicians and used in clinical settings controlled by medical professionals, this matter could be discussed rationally, largely eliminating any question about moral violations or "evil".

The Bottom Line

Psychoactive substances have been around for centuries, and it does not seem like they're going anywhere anytime soon. People need drugs and alcohol to wind down and change their state of mind sometimes, and using them in moderation is actually not something to be frowned upon. Unfortunately, substance abuse is a very common occurrence, and individuals who fall prey to addiction deserve all the help they can get in order to get out of it. 

With the start of the 21st century, the way we approach addiction has changed for the better. Medical professionals and therapists have started looking at the psychological and environmental causes of addiction. They have started trying to help addicted individuals rather than perceiving drugs and alcohol as the source of all evil that needs to be removed from society as long as our civilization continues to become more compassionate and understanding of human shortcomings, so will addiction treatment get more effective.