Society Lecture 2008: What's so new about the new abstentionism? History and treatment policy

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

What’s so new about the new abstentionism? History and treatment policy

Recent discussion in the drugs field has concentrated on the rise of the ‘new abstentionism’ and divisions between new abstentionists and the advocates of methadone maintenance. Linking treatment with the criminal justice
agenda also seems to be a new development . This lecture will take a longer view. It will examine the rise of the notion of treatment in the second half of the nineteenth century. It will analyse how treating inebriates and later addicts came to be seen as a legitimate medical activity and also, and importantly, one where the state had a role to play. It will examine the key decades in the subsequent history: the 1920s, the 1960s and 70s; HIV/AIDS in the 1980s; and more recently.

Some of the current debates build on long standing tensions and interconnections between criminal justice, medical and public health approaches to treatment, and tensions between abstinence and moderation as legitimate outcomes. But the lecture will not simply argue that there is nothing new under the sun. It will seek to understand what might be new as well as long standing in the current situation.


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Virginia Berridge