Society For The Study Of Addiction

Alcohol and drugs history session

Plenary session 2: Alcohol and Drugs History Society

The final session of the 2016 SSA Symposium was organised by the Drug and Alcohol History Society, and featured three speakers. Professor Erika Dyck from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada provided historical perspective on a current debate about the use of psychedelic drugs as potential treatment for mental health problems and addictions. She re-visited the clinical uses of LSD in Canada in history, including the moment that the term ‘psychedelic’ was first used. By exploring the work of the Hollywood Hospital, where hopes were high for the development of psychedelic treatments for addictions, she began to explore the lessons that a close reading of LSD’s past has to offer to contemporary researchers. Hear her summarise her presentation below, or read. Read more and hear the presentation here

Erika Dyck: Turn on, tune in, step back: historical insights on the psychedelic renaissance 

The next speaker was Dr Gemma Blok, an assistant professor in modern Dutch History at the University of Amsterdam. She presented an analysis of the reasons behind a recent growth in Narcotics Anonymous in the Netherlands using written memoirs of, and oral history interviews with (former) Dutch heroin users. She argued that this growth is not only linked to the success of the 12-step approach, but also represents the power of a grass-roots protest movement as many members are unhappy with the therapeutic climate in ‘professional’ addiction treatment. As in the UK, some challenge the idea of addiction as a chronically relapsing brain disease as they feel this paradigm makes addiction treatment workers ‘give up’ on people. However, this contrasts with the ‘Junkie Unions’ of the 1970s/80s who rebelled against an abstinence orientation in addiction treatment. Read more and hear the presentation here

Gemma Blok: ‘Just For Today’: the rise of Narcotics Anonymous in the Netherlands’ since 1988

The session was concluded by Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist and ‘student of history’ Dr Iain Smith, whose presentation summarised how much addiction researchers and practitioners can learn from historical studies. In introducing the audience to some key texts in the field, differentiating between polemical and balanced works along the way, he showed how the historical view can generate testable hypotheses for current and future research. Of particular note was how his own exploration of the role of the medical profession in the history of mind-altering and addictive drugs had disabused him of any belief in a narrative of straightforward scientific progress in our field.  Histories of the concept of addiction, and its precursors, remind us of the unresolved, and probably irresolvable, philosophical issue with which we wrestle, namely the problem of diminished free will. Read more and hear the presentation here

Iain Smith: Addiction science meets addiction history: a necessary conversation 

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