The Changing Views About Drug Addiction Over the Past Century

Changing Views About Drug Addiction

Changing Views About Drug Addiction

Humans have sought mental relief and euphoria through the use of mind-altering substances for thousands of years. The early Egyptians drank wine, and marijuana was recommended by physicians in China as early as 2737 B.C. However, the active substances in drugs were not extracted until the 19th century A.D. Initially, these substances were not regulated or controlled, and the potential for addiction and the dangers of compulsive drug use were not widely understood. When morphine and cocaine were first discovered, doctors freely prescribed these medications for a variety of conditions. As more and more people fell victim to addiction, society gradually gained an awareness of the dangers of certain substances and lawmakers began to take measures to control public access to substances of abuse.

Why Does Public Perception of Addiction Change Over Time?

Although witnessing the negative effects of substance abuse firsthand may change a person’s perception of addiction, most public knowledge of the risks of drug use are the result of lawmaking. In the United States, lawmakers attempt to adjust to the constant flow of new discoveries of the dangers associated with drug abuse by educating the public and regulating the distribution of certain substances. The US government began to regulate drug use through the legal system in 1875, when San Francisco city laws outlawed opium dens. As a result of continuous lawmaking, the past century has witnessed a drastic change in public perception of substance abuse.

How Lawmaking Alters Public Perception of Addiction

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the first national drug law, required medicines to be accurately labeled. Ten ingredients considered dangerous were legally required to be listed on the label if present in the product and illegal to list if not present. These ingredients included alcohol, morphine, cannabis, and opium. Throughout the 20th century, lawmakers continued to regulate drug use and take measures to alter public perception of addiction. After the surgeon’s general warning label was placed on tobacco products in 1970, the public gradually accepted the addictive quality of tobacco. Warning labels were eventually placed on alcohol, as well, when fetal alcohol syndrome was recognized. By the end of the 20th century, as a whole, the general public was more aware of the risks of using certain substances. According to a 1999 telephone survey conducted by the Gallup Organization, more than half of all Americans have grown increasingly concerned about the dangers of substance abuse within recent years.

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