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A REVOLUTION IN UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION

In 2015, most people know that heavy drinking is dangerous.

This was not the case in the 18th century. An illuminating blog post from Smithsonian.com reminds us how far our understanding of alcoholism has come in the last two centuries.

In the early years of the United States, alcohol was not merely an object of enjoyment or relaxation: imbibing was seen as a crucial element of well-being. In fact, it was considered normal to drink throughout the day. From the Smithsonian:

Alcohol was thought to stave off fevers and ease digestion. “If you did not drink, you were endangering your health,” says Mark Lender, a historian and coauthor of Drinking in America. “There was a point at which you could not buy life insurance if you did not drink. You were considered ‘crank-brained.’”
This conception began to change with Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the Founding Fathers of this country. He warned of the dangers of overconsumption, and the “vices” that could result.

In his 1785 essay, “An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind,” Dr. Rush claimed that drinking brandy would cause “quarreling”—and that drinking all day and night could lead to theft and murder.

Today we are all too aware of the connection between intoxication and crime. But in his day, Rush’s theories were groundbreaking:

The conception we have of addiction today can generally be traced back to Benjamin Rush. There was a point, Rush believed, that the substance, in this case alcohol, controlled the individual rather than the other way around. He thought there was a physical dependence engendered in the body. He was a pioneer.
Medical wisdom remains a crucial foundation of recovery. After all, addiction is a complex disease of the body and mind. Therefore, it is no surprise that many alcoholics experience dramatic transformations when they sober up. For a recent example, Brian Flemming is a Michigan man making headlines for his recovery: he lost nearly 400 pounds when he stopped drinking a fifth of vodka every night and began eating healthily.

Being sober doesn’t mean having a perfect life. People in recovery still have problems, but those problems are usually an improvement on their old troubles. Brian Flemming is currently raising money for surgery to remove the excess skin left over from his weight loss.

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