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Addictions Through The Ages


Human propensity towards addiction is nothing new. With human nature being the way it is, addictions have been around since man learned to walk standing upright. Whilst considered as habit, weakness, illness or even demonic possession, dependency on mind-altering substances has existed since our prehistoric ancestors discovered fungi, which contained psychotropic properties.

Archaeologists have found evidence suggesting that Stone Age man consumed a variety of mushrooms for their hallucinogenic properties, either for recreational purposes or as part of ancient rituals. Some tribes used poison extracted from certain toads for mind-expanding experiences. The Taino people of the Bahamas used the seeds of the cojobana tree for hundreds of years to allow them to experience out-of-body experiences, or “astral travelling.” Entire communities indulged in these practises suggesting mass-addiction to the natural drugs.

Other Historical Needs And Compulsions

Ancient addictions weren’t just confined to mind-altering substances. Gambling existed long before money was invented, using land, property or livestock as stakes. Through the middle Ages entire Estates were lost when members of nobility risked their homes and land through wagers made in card games and bets.

Sex addiction also has a historical background. Ancient fertility symbols suggest that prehistoric man was as preoccupied with sex as much as modern man. Civilisations such as the ancient Greeks produced household earthenware, mosaics and furniture depicting frank and uninhibited scenes of a sexual nature. Records dating back to ancient Rome and second century Greece show reports of nymphomania in women and hyper sexuality.

Alcohol, of course, has featured strongly through the years with Biblical, Egyptian and Babylonian sources recording the history of alcohol dependency and abuse. It was recognised as causing social problems even thousands of years ago, though it wasn’t until the 17th century that the medical consequences of alcoholism were documented.

The Meaning Of Addiction

The word “addiction” has only recently been used as a label for what society feels is unacceptable. It originated from the Latin adjective ‘addictus’ and when used in the English language it had the meaning of being obligated or formally bound to someone else. It soon took on the meaning of being devoted to a practice such as gluttony or lust. Shakespeare was the first recorded writer to use the word “addiction” in the play Henry V, and used it in the sense of having a strong inclination.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the word “addict” began to be used as a noun describing someone who had inclinations towards drug dependency and since then the word has veered between describing a medical condition or someone who is simply devoted to a pastime or sport.

It would appear that human behaviour hasn’t changed at all over the centuries. We humans are capable of becoming dependent on anything, which makes us feel good. The advent of technology has simply opened up the options to feed dependencies but thankfully it has also created the opportunity to seek help for them.

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