The Brief History of Addiction – From Ancient Era to 21st Century

The human brain has always been susceptible to external stimuli – the forces that not only conditioned them for a specific point in time but also contributed to the development of long-term dependency. Then, these dependency stimulants would turn into global problems that needed to be fixed.

Over the course of human history, there have been many different substances or mediums that led people to severe dependency issues. Where once humanity was plagued by sugar dependency, today that role is taken by gambling, yet the implications are more or less the same: dependent people lose touch with reality and do unimaginable things to attain that which they strive towards.

In this article, I’ll try to address this issue by outlining some of the most prominent dependency eras, starting from today and going one step back at a time. So, let’s get right to the business.

21st century with gambling addiction

Gambling, i.e. putting money in a risky endeavor without knowing the outcome, has been around for as long as humans have existed on this planet. It’s within our intrinsic nature to long for something that is uncertain, risky, dangerous even, and in that longing, our body produces adrenaline, which gives us pleasure in doing so.

And while gambling addiction has also been prevalent in the past, the 21st century comes with intrinsically new capabilities. With the mass proliferation of the internet, even the best casino slot games with seemingly harmless nature can turn into addictive mediums if not consumed carefully.

So, what implications does gambling addiction have for people? Well, on the one hand, those who are deeply entrenched in casino gambling or sports betting have severe financial issues. They lose any sense of financial responsibility, as well as budgeting. All they think about is getting more money to spend more on gambling.

On the other hand, gambling addiction has a social implication as well. More often than not, addicts become extremely anti-social, they treat their family members harshly, and think that everyone is trying to get money from them, which reflects how deep they’re submerged in gambling.

Now, gambling addiction certainly isn’t the only addiction problem humanity is facing in the 21st century. Alcoholism, drugs, and smoking are still raging across the globe, and countless people are dying because of them, and we’re not even talking about sugar addiction, which is considered as the most dangerous “legal drug”. But because of its significant increase over the recent years, gambling addiction is still the one that dominates the 21st century.

20th century with drugs and smoking

From our modern era, let’s take one step back in the 20th century and see what plagued a 20th-century man. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and many other types of drugs can be considered the main headache for that time, as their scale reached never-before-seen heights.

For instance, cocaine first “hit the market” in the 19th century, when Albert Niemann extracted it from coca leaves. Thanks to its newly-discovered capabilities, such as the promotion of saliva flow and brain resuscitation, cocaine soon became the main ingredient of Coca Cola.

But soon afterward, in 1903, public pressure forced Coca Cola to remove cocaine from its product, while the 1914 Harrison Tax Act completely banned its use in the United States. The number of cocaine addicts by the beginning of the 20th century reached a whopping 200,000, which already indicated the mass scale of this issue.

As for smoking, it had also been around for quite some time, and way before the 20th century. However, the mass production of cigarettes reached unimaginable levels during this time, when the specific industry was created for it.

For comparison, the earlier cigarette machines were capable of producing 200 cigarettes a day, whereas the subsequent machines increased that number to thousands, culminating in 9,000 per minute today.

But it wasn’t just mass production that popularized smoking; political lobbying was also crucial to the proliferation of tobacco. The tobacco industry gained so much power and weight that they could easily squash any political resistance. In other words, they were the ones who dictated the new political agenda to the politicians.

And I’m not even talking about two world wars, as well as countless small-scale wars that encouraged the use of both drugs and tobacco. The 20th century proved to be a very fertile land for this type of addiction.

Earlier eras of sugar and alcohol

And even before the 20th century, there were many different substances that caused addiction in people. And some of the most potent substances included sugar and alcohol.

Sugar, for instance, proved and continues to prove that it is one of the strongest addictive drugs that has ever existed, it’s just that we have never deemed it illegal like other drugs. Now, sugar was never supposed to be a part of our original diet, not to mention any kind of refined carbohydrates.

This substance probably entered our bodies as an accident. And from that accident, we quickly became dependent on it. Not to delve too deep into history, we come to the Middle Ages and Earlier Era, the time when people are particularly dependent on sugar, so much so that they’re setting up sugar plantations and using human slaves there.

Probably one of the biggest implications of sugar addiction is interestingly indirect: we exploited, exchanged, and killed people for producing sugar. Just this piece of history should teach us a lot about this substance.

As for alcohol, it also continues to be one of the strongest legal drugs with some minor variations in different countries. But it’s worth noting that drinking alcohol and being intoxicated by it was always differentiated from each other; while the society felt positive towards the former, the latter was utterly condemned.

And even though it’s a timeless drug, we can safely say that the Middle Ages and even before that can be considered as an apex for alcohol. That’s the time when we used to drink wine, yet we also developed the prototypes of spirits and beer.