August 29th, 2014

An Updated History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery

Editor’s Note:

When the first edition of Slaying the Dragon by William White appeared in 1998, I agreed with the uniform response by reviewers that it was the best history that had been written about the centuries of work that had been done in America to address the problems of people struggling with alcohol and drug problems. For me, it provided a clarifying perspective on how we in the addiction field are trying to resolve so many contradictory and controversial clinical and public policy issues that arise as a result of trying to help these individuals and at the same time protect those others whose lives are disrupted by them. Now it’s time for an updated history of addiction treatment.

I have just started reading the newly published second edition and find it to be a wonderful update of what feels like an explosion of interest and focus, in the intervening 16 years, on the problem of addiction. I highly recommend this very readable and accessible series of stories, and I am pleased that Bill has agreed to write a guest post about the new edition.

—George Kolodner

By William L. White

My work on my book Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America began in the mid-1970s when I sought to understand the roots of the field I was called to serve. I wanted to understand the historical cycles of alcohol and other drug problems in America and how the treatment of these problems had changed and will likely change in the future. Slaying the Dragon, originally published in 1998, is the product of that effort.

A new edition of Slaying the Dragon Recovery in America has just been published to expand upon the perspectives on addiction in this country. I chose this time to complete a new edition of Slaying the Dragon because it seemed that the field had reached a crossroads on a number of critical issues; my hope was that this updated historical analysis could guide us through some of these coming momentous decisions. Here are some of the topics covered in the new edition:

  • Native American and colonial responses to alcohol and other drug problems
  • The rise of 19th-century recovery mutual aid societies
  • The rise and fall of 19th-century inebriate homes, inebriate asylums, private addiction cure institutes, and bottled and boxed home cures (and what they really contained)
  • The early history of treatment for addiction to drugs other than alcohol (including a new chapter on the history of Narcotics Anonymous)
  • The mid-twentieth century alcoholism and narcotic addiction reform movements
  • The birth and evolution of modern addiction treatment

In general, this updated edition outlines historically unprecedented changes within the culture of recovery in the U.S. and extracts lessons from this history that might influence personal and professional decision-making.

The new edition includes the voices of many modern addiction treatment and recovery pioneers.  It is a big sweeping story (557 pages with more than 100 photos) presented in bite-size, self-contained stories of key ideas, people and institutions. It is written in a language and style that make it accessible to people in recovery, addiction professionals and policy makers. The full table of contents and a sample chapter are posted online.

I hope you will find it a fitting tribute to people in recovery and their families, addiction professionals and more than two centuries of addiction treatment institutions.

Contact us to learn more the history addiction treatment.

William L. White, Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems, has worked full time in the addictions field since 1969.  He is the author of more than 400 articles and monographs and 17 books.

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