The History of Addiction Treatment 1750 to 1850
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers an overview of significant events in the history of addiction treatment in America. Their main source was a 1998 book called Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, written by William L. White.
From about 1750 to the early 1800’s, mutual aid societies for alcoholics called “sobriety circles” (perhaps the earliest version of a 12-step meeting) were formed within various Native American tribes. Some were part of, or evolved into, Native American cultural revitalization movements that were also temperance organizations.
In 1774, Anthony Benezet’s book Mighty Destroyer Displayed is published. It is the earliest American essay on alcoholism. Ten years later, in 1784, Dr. Benjamin Rush’s work, Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind and Body, argued that the condition was a disease that should be treated by physicians. Rush’s writing marked beginning of American temperance movement.
In 1810, the same Dr. Benjamin Rush called for creation of a “Sober House” for the care of the “confirmed drunkard”.
In 1825, Rev. Lyman Beecher’s Six Sermons on Intemperance described the presence of an “insatiable desire to drink,” and described warning signs of addiction to distilled spirits.
In 1830, Dr. Samuel Woodward called for the creation of “inebriate asylums”.
In 1840 The Washingtonian Society, organized by and for “hard cases,” grew to more than 600,000 members–before its decline in the mid 1840s. Many were replaced the Fraternal Temperance Society, organized for “reforming” men.
By the Civil War Era, 1844 – 1845, Lodging Homes and, in 1857, a Home for the Fallen were opened in Boston–marking the roots of the 19th century inebriate home. As inebriate homes spread, so did several alcoholic mutual aid societies such as the Godwin Association.
In 1845, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass signed a pledge of abstinence and became involved in promoting temperance among African American people as a way of preparing Black people for full citizenship—a precursor to modern Afro-centric models of addiction recovery.
In 1849, a Swedish physician, Magnus Huss, described a disease resulting from chronic alcohol consumption–Alcoholismus chronicus. This marked the introduction of the term “alcoholism”.