My interest in writing about addiction and substance abuse originated—as do most of my good ideas—from conversations with patients. For more than two decades, I have seen more and more cases of substance abuse problems among children, teenagers, and young adults. My clinical experiences are hardly unique. Of all the public health threats facing the United States today, addiction, substance abuse, and alcoholism are among the most deadly and costly.
But because I am also trained as a historian of medicine, I always want to know how the past has shaped the present and how things have changed over time. Addiction, for example, was not even a bona fide medical diagnosis until the mid-1880s. The word’s original meaning dates to an edict of ancient Roman law where debtors who could not repay their loans were ordered to be “addicted” as slaves to the lender