The Culture of Addiction

Culture can be defined as a systematic set of beliefs and behaviors that shape the entire worldview of any member of a specific society. Culture essentially provides a guide for living, and dictates the actions, behaviors, and cognitive maps of the vast majority of individuals living within a particular community. Because the world is made up of many varying cultures, what is considered an “illicit” substance in some societies is widely condoned in others. The vast majority of culturally distinct groups have had extensive and long-standing experiences with alcohol and substance abuse and addiction, which have lead to culturally diverse methods of treatment and healing. While initiation and assessment of substance abuse varies globally, this article focuses predominantly on North American cultures in regards to alcohol and drug use and addiction.

Human Beings Have Been Abusing Alcohol Since 4000 BC

Human beings have been fermenting fruit and plants to make alcoholic beverages since around 4000 BC. While there are several brief recorded instances of alcohol use in North America before the arrival of whites, the colonial times brought a much wider range of use throughout the continent as a whole. Though Aztecs in Mexico, Papago tribes in the Southwest United States, and Aleuts in Alaska all dabbled in fruit fermentation long before Caucasians made it into North America. At the same time as this was going on, Sumerians had begun to cultivate the opium poppy. The opium poppy was used primarily for its medicinal properties, named “hul gil” (the plant of joy) and used to treat diarrhea and relive pain as well as provide sedation and evoke feelings of euphoria. Opium’s presence in the United States as first noted amongst Chinese immigrants, and was later introduced to urban minorities as heroin.

Drugs Have Been Used By Americans for Hundreds of Decades

While marijuana is believed to have originated about 4000 years ago in China and later in India, Mexican laborers first introduced Americans to smoking marijuana for its psychoactive properties after World War I. The vast majority of the world’s psychoactive plants originated in the Americas, and the number of plant-based drugs originally introduced to society by American citizens is now believed to total about 1500. Cocaine, first produced in the Andes in South America, has become a major drug of abuse in the US over the past several years, though its prevalence has recently been overshadowed by that of heroin – a drug no longer predominantly used by urban minorities, but by all social classes across the country. Christopher Columbus first discovered Native Americans employing tobacco for a number of medicinal purposes, and now the chemical substance is responsible for innumerable fatalities worldwide on a daily basis. Regardless of where or how drugs originated, the current culture of drug use and addiction has been carefully molded by hundreds of years of handed-down behaviors and expectations.

For a continuation of the culture of addiction, look for Part 2 of this three part series, which will be posted tomorrow!

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