How Long Has Addiction Been Around

How Long Has Addiction Been Around?

Addictive substances have long been used for millennia. Unfortunately, this has steadily paved the way for addiction, which is defined as compulsive seeking and use given the consequences. Here, we will explore the history of addiction and how it came to be.

How Long Has Addiction Been Around?

According to a study, addiction has been around for millennia. This is apparent with the early people’s knowledge of pharmacological plants. These hunter-gatherers, who slowly adopted a pastoral lifestyle, were then able to see the psychoactive effects of these plants on their flocks.

The Millennials

This has consequently led to the early use of psychoactive substances in various settings. They were used by priests, as healers utilized opium as medicine. Over time, people have moved to socially-approved use of substances, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.

As technologies progressed, the early people have managed to ‘improve’ such compounds. They have also come up with faster routes of administration, which have contributed to a ‘loss of control of the substance’. This was the earliest description of addiction, a problem that has only been discussed in the 17th century.

Early Patterns of Use

Early use of addictive substances is segmented into 3 categories: religious, medicinal, and recreational.

1. Religious

For several millennia, shamans or priests have consumed plants to experience a state of trance. These were called entheogenic, which is a combination of the Greek words ‘en’ (inside), ‘theo’ (god), and ‘gen’ (create).

One such example is Amanita muscaria, which is also known as fly agaric. It induces a state of trance through its hallucinogenic compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol.

Fly agaric is a red mushroom with white spots – a plant one often seen in children’s books. While it may seem harmless, it has been the hallucinogenic of choice by Central Asian shamans for 4 millennia.

It is also quite popular in India, where it is used to make Soma, a beverage used in the Rigveda. It is also used to make another type of beverage called Haoma, which is mentioned in the Avesta of Zoroastrianism. By the 18th century, fly agaric has found its way in Northeastern Siberia.

In Central America, the plant of choice was the psilocin/psilocybin-rich mushroom. As for the Navajo and pre-Columbian Mexicans, peyote or Lophophora williamsi was ingested to generate spiritual introspection. This plant is rich in mescaline, apart from other psychoactive alkaloids.

In Ethiopia, priests roasted coffee beans to keep awake for several nights of prayer.

2. Medicinal

Some addictive substances started as medicine, as is the case of opium. It is believed that Sumerians cultivated poppies as early as the 3rd millennium BC. They used it to soothe excessive crying in children by giving the pulp for 4 consecutive days.

Addiction to Medicine

Opium was also thought to be used by the early Greeks. Such was documented in Homer’s Odyssey, which has been published in the 9th century BC. The plant, named Nepenthes pharmakon, was used as a potion to help Greek warriors recuperate.

While previous scholars thought this potion to be opium, modern studies suggest otherwise. Scholars believe that this was laudanum, which is a tincture of opium. This was used up until the 19th century for infections, heart problems, and sleeping disorders. Since laudanum was cheap and was not taxed, many people used it in favor of wine or gin.

The same positive reception persisted until the 20th century. In the early days, opium was used by psychiatrists to treat melancholy. At the same time, there was a popular belief that healthy people can continuously use opium without developing dependence. Of course, such a belief was wrong.

3. Recreational

Psychotropic caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are the most-widely consumed ‘drugs’ in the world. These licit substances are inherent in most cultures, where they are used to stimulate trade and social interaction.

Wine, which came from cultivated vines, can be traced back to as early as 7000 BC. This is even steeped in religion. Jewish and Christians believe that Noah drank wine after exiting his ark.

Another example of a popular recreational drug is Hashish. Known as cannabis, it was eaten and smoked in Islamic cultures.

Coffee was consumed by Islamic countries in the early 15th century. It eventually found its way to Europe, with the new world colonies following suit.

Although today’s control of such substances is meant to curb abuse, it was made so to collect tax in the early days. This has led to the prohibition, which was observed in the US and some Nordic countries.

The act was not limited to alcohol though. Cannabis and tobacco saw their fair share of prohibition as well. In Russia, smokers had their lips cut off. Smokers in the Ottoman Empire, on the other hand, were beheaded. In Egypt, hashish farmers were executed and imprisoned. Those who used them suffered a worse fate as they had their teeth pulled out.

Addiction and More Potent Compounds

With the dawn of new knowledge and technological advancements, the early people have managed to create more potent compounds out of the abovementioned substances. This, of course, has led to faster absorption and higher concentrations. To many experts, these ‘discoveries’ have contributed to the addiction problems that the world has today.

For example, whereas cereal fermentation led to beverages having 5% alcohol content. Doing so with grape sugar, on the other hand, yields a whopping content of 14%. Through distillation, a procedure developed in 11th or 12th century Italy, people can even consume a drink with a concentration of 50% or more.

Beverages having 5% alcohol content.

Tobacco, on the other hand, was later on developed into cigarettes. While snuffed and chewed tobacco did not bring much dependence, cigarettes allowed nicotine to be rapidly absorbed into the body.

Cocaine is used by 1.5 million Americans over the age of 12. This was derived by purifying the coca leaf. Initially used by Andean miners to reduce fatigue, this has opened the doors for a crack-cocaine epidemic.

The same ‘developments’ have led to the synthesis of more potent forms of opium. These include morphine and heroin. Where opium was once used for pain relief, its synthetic sons have become the foremost causes of dependence and abuse.


Drug use and abuse have been around for millennia. Originally, they were used for religious, medicinal, and recreational purposes. However, this has led to the development of more potent forms. Sadly, these substances have led to addictions that cripple the world today.  

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