For most of human history, drug addicts have been shunned by society. Even when morphine, opium, and cocaine were commercially available, those who used these substances too much or too often were considered outcasts. If any measure of compassion was offered, it was only to lock these unfortunate individuals away in sanitariums. There, forced into withdrawals (no longer having access to drugs), they were on equal footing with the truly insane: they hallucinated, exhibited irrational and self-destructive behaviors, and howled in pain—soul-crushing, unrelenting pain.
There was no “recovery” in those days, no treatment that led toward reintegration with the rest of society. Those who found themselves institutionalized were, in a sense, the “lucky” ones. The vast majority of drug addicts either killed themselves slowly, as chronic drug use caused their vital organs to fail; or died quickly, by overdosing (still a common outcome).
It was well into the second half of the 20th century before addicts began to harbor even a glimmer of hope for returning to fulfilling lives. Before modern medicine recognized addiction as a disease, drunks, and addicts were considered weak-willed, sinful (even possessed by the devil), and hardly worth helping. Puritanical attitudes and a lack of scientific study convicted those unfortunate individuals to live out the rest of their sad lives in what was thought to be a hell of their own making.
Thankfully, the reprehensible treatment of addicts like them is all in the past. While countless people still suffer from the disease of addiction, those who seek help today have hope that simply didn’t exist a few generations ago.
Treatment for drug addiction has made life worth living again for hundreds of thousands of men and women who, not so long ago, would have been considered the dregs of society. For decades, people who were once helpless in the face of their addiction have returned to meaningful, healthy, and drug-free lives—all thanks to modern methods of addiction treatment.
Recovery is now a commonplace occurrence, and thousands of people overcome addiction every day. What has made the difference? For the vast majority of them, hope for recovery can be traced back to the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, Ohio in the 1930s.