We live in an age of addiction, from compulsive gaming and shopping to binge eating and opioid abuse. Sugar can be as habit-forming as cocaine, researchers tell us, and social media apps are hooking our kids. In his new book, “The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business” (Harvard University’s Belknap Press, 2019), David Courtwright, presidential professor emeritus at the University of North Florida and a leading expert on addiction, chronicles the triumph of what he calls “limbic capitalism,” the growing network of competitive businesses targeting the brain pathways responsible for feeling, motivation and long-term memory. These businesses capitalize on the ancient quest to discover, cultivate and refine new and habituating pleasures. Courtwright holds out hope that limbic capitalism can be contained by organized opposition from across the political spectrum. Progressives, nationalists and traditionalists have made common cause against the purveyors of addiction before. They could do it again, but it will be necessary to understand the history and character of the global enterprises that create and cater to our bad habits. At this webinar, Courtwright discusses his book with William Martin, the director of the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program.
David T. Courtwright, Ph.D., is presidential professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of North Florida. In addition to “The Age of Addiction,” Courtwright is the author of four other books, including “Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America” and “Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World.” He was an inaugural recipient of a grant from the highly competitive NEH Public Scholar Program and is a regular media commentator on the history of addiction. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1974 and a Ph.D. in history from Rice University in 1979.
William Martin, Ph.D. Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy; Director, Drug Policy Program, Baker Institute
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Alex Brown. Brown researches and writes for the drug history podcast Hooked on History. He has a Master’s in Contemporary History from the University of Edinburgh.
It will likely surprise none of this blog’s readers that British tabloids have proved poor custodians of “drug” information. Evidence of their inflexible anti-drug stance was presented during the Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt told the inquiry: “If a scientist announces their research has found ecstasy to be safer than alcohol, I know my job as a tabloid reporter is to portray this man as a quack.” Instead of offering accurate information, “drug” articles tend to act as conduits through which moral judgments and social anxieties can be expressed.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
The bartender may already know that aquavit, gin and other spirits flavoured with spices and herbs, were seen as medicines in the Renaissance. But what he probably does not know, and probably will find interesting, is that there was a debate already in the 17th century about whether these “medicines” were dangerous to health. In addition, it probably would come as a surprise that in this debate, terms were used that we today attribute to drug abuse: addiction, hallucinations and moral dangers. And what makes it extra exciting, is that this debate was related to exotic substances. The debate about drugs in the 17th century has much in common with discussions we associate with the history of the spice trade, that is, spices as moral temptations. Exotic drugs could create hot desires in the body, fill you with madness, or make you think you were a king or deity, or they could give you divine insight into forbidden knowledge.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Christiana Verdelus. Verdelus is a Haitian-American woman, feminist, and first-generation college student studying Health Education and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. This work was inspired by her research on women of color and substance abuse treatment approaches and was completed through the Preston Haskell Faculty and Student Award program.
My first presidential election is right around the corner and let me tell you—I am not looking forward to it. Don’t get me wrong: making Biden and Harris the next leaders of this nation is definitely a small step (or maybe a tiptoe) in the right direction. But I’m angry that it’s only my first election and I’m already tired of settling.
Within our polarized society, Republicans administrations are known to exacerbate issues that disproportionately affect people of color. But Democrats have neglected important issues. Just getting Trump out of office isn’t going to single-handedly repair black and brown communities. I am happy that history is being made with a black woman nominee for Vice President. But “representation” won’t rebuild these communities either. Every four years we spend holding onto hope that the next election will bring real change is another four years of governmental abuse and abandonment of communities of color. As a nation we cannot afford it. And as a black woman and a feminist, I won’t stand for it.
Editor’s Note: The message below comes from the Symposium on AA History, which will be hosting its next meeting in January 2021. Click the link for more info about the group.
On July 27, 2020 one of our fellowship’s finest historians, Glenn C. passed away in his sleep. Glenn was integral in the formation and success of the Symposium on A.A. History. He presented at three out of the six conferences and the Symposium will not be the same without his steadfast presence.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writers Mae Tidd and Deepika Rao, graduate students at UW-Madison in the Health Services Research in Pharmacy Program.
Mae’s research interests focus on LGBTQ+ health and health communication in pharmacy spaces and wider medical spheres. She studies the promotion of health information (between physician and patient, health education, and public health campaigns), health activism, and community/stakeholder engagement. More specifically, she is working to understand HIV-prevention’s pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake, or the lack thereof, in the state of Wisconsin by identifying barriers that are obstructing health services along the cascade of the PrEP Continuum of Care.
Deepika is particularly interested in studying the use of dissemination and implementation sciences in pharmacy, especially in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. Currently, her primary research involves using mixed methods approaches to explore and develop patient-centered interventions for opioid misuse that can be implemented in the pharmacy settings.
The current pandemic continues to be the front of discussion, as it should be. Yet, we need not to forget the other epidemic(s) that continue to occur: opioid overdoses, HIV, and the effects of systemic racism chief among them. This is especially true because people among the subgroups affected by these epidemics are at increased risk for the coronavirus and face significantly more problems accessing health care.
As we head into the fifth month of seized day-to-day life, the repercussions of COVID-19 are more than apparent – numerous people are (still) unemployed, mentally drained, isolated, and even homeless. The high number of COVID deaths are compounded by the fact that there are also numerous long-term COVID patients who are still suffering from incapacitating symptoms. With no end in sight, society is flooded with uncertainty.
These repercussions are concerning as they impact the mass majority. Yet at a heightened concern is the pandemic has exacerbated issues for the 20 million+ people in the US battling a substance use disorder.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Acid Revival is about how a group of mental health professionals is trying to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy back into mainstream medicine and how they struggle with the past history of psychedelic drugs in medicine as they do this. My book looks at how these researchers grapple with this past by telling stories about what went wrong during the “first wave” of psychedelic therapy—a period stretching from the late 1940s to mid-1970s. And their stories all point the blame at one person: Timothy Leary, the infamous psychedelic researcher-cum-countercultural guru.
For today’s researchers studying psychedelic therapy, Leary symbolizes what I call an “impure scientist”—a bad expert who does not respect and intentionally defies the boundaries of science. And in defying these boundaries, his presence supposedly had a polluting effect on the legitimacy of psychedelic therapy. So, researchers would tell me how Leary “contaminated” and “poisoned” psychedelic science. To contain that threat and offer an antidote to that poison, they perform as the Anti-Leary—a phrase I heard from several researchers. Another term bounced around was that they are “sober scientists.” So, essentially, the book tells a story about how, in the minds of contemporary psychedelic researchers, the misbehavior of an individual had contaminating effects on their whole scientific field—it boils down to a “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” story.
But these boundaries between impure and sober scientists are porous. That’s the thing about boundaries—they aren’t given; they are constructed. The ways in which we draw lines in the sand between this or that is the result of struggle and those lines are subject to change across time and place. And the way that we see this happening in psychedelic science is this: these researchers push away from the pollution of the impure scientist by enacting the sober scientist persona, but at the same time, they still draw on the practices of the impure scientist. For example, among other things, they criticize Leary for failing to follow conventional scientific methods in his psychedelic research, so they actively work to follow the kind of hypothesis-testing methods that grant scientific credibility. But at the same time, they actively incorporate Leary’s insights about the psychedelic experience into their therapeutic models. Leary is so central to their stories and to the revival because he is the site of the continuities and divergences between the first and current waves of research. And from this discussion, I hope readers learn more about not just the history of psychedelic science but about how the ways in which people construct reality has real effects on their actions.
The push to legalize cannabis in France, where the drug is widely consumed but prohibited, is gaining momentum.
The grassroots pro-grass activism of NORML France has, in the past decade, been bolstered by growing popular demand and public calls for cannabis legalization by French entrepreneurs, farmers, physicians, economists, politicians, and even police unions. In June 2019, seventy public figures signed and published an open letter in the popular news magazine L’Obs decrying the nation’s “costly,” “ineffective” and “repressive” prohibitionist policies and calling for the “supervised legalization” in France in the name of public health and violence prevention.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. He contributes to our Teaching Points series, which investigates the role of alcohol and drug history in the classroom.
Things have changed.
In February, I wrote what now seems like a rather whimsical preview of my newly fine-tuned version of a Drugs in American History course at Utica College in the Spring of 2020. About two weeks into that ill-fated semester, I highlighted the “enrollment crisis” in history programs, perhaps the central issue among academic historians in the last decade, and how the History Department at Utica College was attempting to retool its history major to appeal to students’ interest in their world. I then discussed the results of my course survey, which brought out the various issues in drug history that interested my students and that I was going to center the course on.
At the time, based on the interactions at the start of the term, I was very optimistic. My optimism rose as we explored David Courtwright’s Forces of Habit as the course’s foundational/theoretical framework over the first seven weeks of class. As the Covid-19 crisis rose to engulf us here in New York State, the class was about to make the transition from theory to research. Students had chosen a “drug category” and were preparing to use basic research tools, also introduced during the first half of the course, to create a 5 minute research presentation (and accompanying 5-7 page research paper) exploring one of the major themes from Courtwright’s book within their chosen category.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. He reviews the new Netflix series “The Business of Drugs.”
Netflix’s new series The Business of Drugs investigates six psychoactive substances—cocaine, synthetics, heroin, cannabis, methamphetamine, and opioids—tracing them to global hot spots—from the remote villages of Colombia, to the ailing slums on Kenya’s periphery, to Myanmar’s contested regions, where ethnic strife is fueled by the factory-level output of methamphetamine (or “yaba”). Other installments are less global, and narrowly tailored for American consumers, catering to hot-button domestic issues: the causes and consequences of the opioid epidemic, MDMA’s potential as a breakthrough therapeutic, and the overregulation of California’s legal cannabis markets.