On the Genealogy of Drug Abuse and Addiction


In this chapter I present a genealogy of drug abuse and addiction, attempting to explore why addiction is such a huge problem in contemporary societies. Initially, I took my lead from the eminent sociologist Anthony Giddens, who has argued that addiction is a modern invention that can only be understood in terms of a society in which tradition has been swept away more thoroughly than ever before (Giddens 1991). To understand what these traditions were we must delve a bit into the history and anthropology of human societies. To that end we shall briefly explore the nature of intoxicant use in different societies throughout human history.

What I found was initially shocking. “Primitive” people, it seems, used a wide variety of inebriating plants. They were used by almost every tribal people I came across in my scholarly pursuits, but in way very different from most modern drug use. Moreover, these substances had very positive effects on the people that used them, and positive effects for the societies of which they were a part. I will attempt to tease out what about “primitive” social organization allowed the controlled use of these intoxicants to have these positive purposes. I will argue that the loss of shamanic rituals is the central tradition that has been swept away that has lead to drug abuse becoming a massive social problem.

Most modern approaches to psychoactive substances are biopsychosocial models of drug abuse and addiction, which tend to ignore the central role these substances play in human spirituality. I got turned on to the spiritual elements of drug use because I discovered in my own recovery how problematic drug use is often a “spiritual emergency” (Grof 1989) and a “thirst for wholeness”, as Jung noted. (Jung also said that the only cure was “spiritus contra spiritum”). My approach also moves beyond looking at modern drug abuse and addiction. We must examine drug use throughout human history and find instances of non-compulsive “controlled” use. I insist upon understanding drug use among “primitives” because it worked so well in positive ways for individuals and groups. By understanding how drugs worked positively for primitive people, then perhaps we can isolate why it works so negatively now. I draw upon many scholars to construct “critical drug use theory”, including Zinberg, R.Gordon Wasson, McKenna, Michael Harner, Jonathan Ott, etc. My chief finding is that our ancient ancestors had “controlled” use in which many norms and sanctions limited when and how and by whom drugs could be used, and for what purposes. Sacramental use was allowed by trained novices guided by seasoned experts. Compulsive use was not allowed.


I draw upon critical social theory in this examination of drug use. Critical social theory is an approach to understanding modern society which highlights how changing economic conditions and structures of power impact the organization and experience of social life. Critical social theory is heavily indebted to Karl Marx and his “materialist conception of history”. The materialist approach focuses on how humans live day to day, their mundane labors to sustain themselves, their productive economic activity. We call these changing economic circumstances “modes of production”. We begin by noting that human history has witnessed several distinct modes of production, including nomadic hunting and gathering societies, agricultural societies and industrial societies.

In constructing a critical theoretical approach to drug use, I examine how one aspect of the realm of human drives and instinctual needs is modified by changing economic conditions and structures of power. Humans have always and will always seek ways to alter states of consciousness. “Drugs” are quick, simple, convenient and readily available across the globe. Anthropologists estimate that 99% of tribal cultures have ritualized means of altering consciousness, usually through psychotropic plants or rhythmic drumming.

Thus, I briefly outline the different forms of drug use in different societies with different modes of production, and relate these to changes in social organization and “mass psychology”. Obviously to undertake such an exercise means speculating about general patterns found in the longue duree of history.


But first, some definitions. A drug is any substance, natural or artificial, other than food, which changes structure and function in a living organism. Examples of drugs include alcohol, tobacco, prescription medicines, diet pills, “date rape drugs”, and illegal substances such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

We must differentiate drug use, drug abuse and addiction. Many people in our culture, perhaps most, have experimented with drugs, especially if we include tobacco and alcohol. Consider the role that alcohol plays in our culture, being used at social events such as weddings and White House dinners. Most people who use substances do not become regular drug abusers or addicts, for reasons that I will explore later. Drug abuse is characterized by continued misuse even when faced with problems. For example, “binge drinking” of alcohol (i.e. drinking to get drunk) is a huge problem on college campuses. Most of these people do not become addicted to alcohol, but do suffer negative consequences. Some people who continue to abuse drugs over an extended period of time develop tolerance, that is they need more and more of the drug to get the same result, and withdrawal, that is psychological and / or physiological ailments when they suddenly stop using. Addiction is uncontrollable, compulsive drug-seeking and use even in the face of negative health and social consequences


Human beings in our physical form have existed for about one hundred thousand years. And, given that many other mammals and primates seeks intoxication, I will assume that most of that time we have used mind-altering drugs in one form or another.(source?) Andrew Weil has hypothesized that humans have an innate instinct to achieve altered states on consciousness.

The vast majority (90%) of human existence was spent in the form of hunting and gathering societies. These societies were very different from modern societies. Tribal cultures still exist in remote parts of the world and anthropologists learned much about what so-called “primitive societies” must have been like. In these societies humans live simple lives close to the earth, wondering across the landscape in a daily search for food. In stark contrast to our outdated notions of “primitive cave men”, whose lives were thought to be “nasty, brutish and short” , we now know that this mode of subsistence is the “original affluent society” . Primitive people live with a relative abundance of material items to fulfill their needs and wants, and enjoy ample free time.


Virtually all primitive tribal societies had knowledge of psychotropic plants (or “entheogens” , which were used as holy sacraments for mystical connection with the divine. The term “entheogen” comes from an archaic Greek word meaning “manifesting the divine within”. These plants contain chemical compounds that are very similar to natural hormones in the brain.

The use of entheogens is very ancient and very widespread. From Siberia to India, from Western Europe to the Urals, from the Andean mountaintops to the Amazonian rainforests, entheogens played important roles in primitive spirituality. R. Gordon Wasson, the late Harvard ethnobotanist, theorized that entheogens may have given rise to human religion.

Examples of entheogen use include: the use of peyote, a green-gray cactus, among Native Americans of Texas and the ancient Aztecs of Mexico; the use of ergot, a fungus which grows on wheat and rye, among ancient Greeks; the use of amanita muscaria, the “magical mushroom”, which was used in ancient India, Siberia and Greece, the use of opium, a flowering plant growing in Southeastern Europe and Western Asia, and coca, a plant native to the Andes of South America. Other examples of sacred plants being used in religious ceremonies include: the use of ayahuasca in the Santo Daime, a religion which originated in the Brazilian rainforests, which draws upon European Catholicism, African religiosity and indigenous shamanism; the use of San Pedro cacti in healing ceremonies by Peruvian curanderismos, and iboga use buy the Bwiti cult in Equadorian Africa.

While primitive people use a wide variety of intoxicants, the phenomenon of hard-core substance dependence seems to have been substantially less common that it is in modern societies (source?). Quite the opposite, these plants played very positive and healthy roles among primitive people. Through these sacred plants primitive people had mystical union with the divine and often experienced their use as the peak of human experience. Moreover, the ceremonial use of entheogens orients the participants toward appositive functional goal—renewed and intensified group identification at the immediate level.


The controlled use of entheogens by primitive people took place in the context of shamanistic religion. Shamanism is the original spirituality and variants of it are found across the globe among all tribal people. It has lasted at least forty thousand years (source?). Shamans, who have also been called “medicine men” and “witch doctors”, are “technicians of the sacred” who master a range of techniques of ecstasy. For “primitive” people, there were no boundaries between medicine and religion.

Through the use of psychoactive plants, rhythmic drumming, fasting and / or trance dance, shamans and others in the tribe acquire altered states of consciousness (ASCs) or “shamanic states of consciousness” (SSCs). Shamans use these states of consciousness to journey to the “Other World”, where they interact with “spirit allies”. In different indigenous cultures this is through about differently—“astral projection”. “soul journeying”, or flying. Shamans use ASCs to heal, retrieve souls, interpret dreams and to divine the future. Because individual subjectivity was not separated from the tribe as a whole, a pathological symptom was considered to be the result of, and a problem for, the community. Psychological or spiritual healing within primitive healing within primitive communities was a collective event.

Primitive people found ways to balance order and chaos. Friedrich Nietzsche has described two different cultural orientations: Apollonian orientations are named for the Greek god Apollo, the god of sunlight, prophesy, music and poetry. The Apollonian cultural orientation emphasized tradition, beauty, serenity, harmony and the avoidance of extremes; Dionysian orientations are named for the Greek god Dionysus, the god of ecstasy and wine. The Dionysian cultural orientation emphasized the sensuous, frenzied and orgiastic. This sacred duality lies at the core of sacred general economy.


Legal efforts to combat psychoactive drugs have produced lengthy lists of proscribed substances, and although each has its own unique chemical characteristics, mode of use and political reason for prohibition, the symbolic effects of these laws on the public mind has been to lump them all together as “illicit drugs” and to attribute to them a demonic nature, not unlike the medieval view of the pagan pharmacopoeia.

The conventional wisdom is that all illicit drug use is “bad”, that these substances cannot be used on a regular basis without causing harm. It is generally assumed that all illicit drug use is harmful, psychologically or physiologically “addictive”, and that abstinence is the only sensible alternative.

Today drug researchers are increasingly taking account of not only the pharmacological effects of the substances themselves, but also the user’s attitudes and psychological states, and the setting within which the use occurs. Controlled use, which has low social cost, is governed by the following “social controls” :
1. values
2. rules of conduct
3. patterns of behavior

These social controls define acceptable uses and prohibit compulsive uses and limit the substance use to settings that are conducive to positive and safe experiences. Potential negative effects are identified and rituals are enacted which embody precautions to be taken before and during use. The users’ non drug-related obligations and relations are emphatically supported.

Controlled use tends to be highly ritualized with a limited variety of acceptable behavior patterns. How the substance is to be procured, how it is to be administered, the setting for use, the activities done after use and methods to prevent negative effects are ritualized in ways that reinforce the acceptable rules of conduct and sanction unacceptable behavior. An experienced shamanic leader guides the user through the process of consuming the entheogen.

The contrast between the controlled use of entheogens and the compulsive use of drugs by modern people is striking. The ancient wisdom of the shamanic arts provided primitive people with the sophisticated insights of “harm reduction” drug educational thousands of years before these ideas came to the modern public health industry. Shamans, as skilled technicians of the sacred, are masters regarding the use of entheogenic plants, and have sophisticated ways in which they control the social setting of the ritual as well as the psychological attitude of the participants.

The rituals involved in the sacramental use of entheogens by primitive people, as elements of hunter-gatherer social organization, were grounded in these people’s material ways of life. Living close to the Earth, knowing intimately her delicate rhythms and respectful of all plant and animal teachers, shamans guided tribal members on phantasmagoric journeys to the Other World, where first-hand contact was made with the divine in manners that were safe, productive and healthful.

What about the social organization and mass psychology of primitive peoples allowed what we consider to be deadly drugs leading to massive abuse and addiction to be holy sacraments used in safe and proper ways? This will be the concerns of the next sections of this paper.


There was a “wholeness” and “connectedness” among early humans that is markedly different from the fragmentation and alienation found today. By “wholeness” I mean that humans existed in a healthy, happy and productive psychological state in which they had a sense of purpose, meaning, belonging and enchantment. There was a sacred connectedness between individuals and their environments.

Let me unpack the notions of wholeness and connectedness a bit. Tribal societies are marked by:
• cultural integration—that is , everyone in the tribe shares norms, values and ways of acting
• a strong sense of community—that is, the tribe had a strong sense of “us-ness”
• a lack of hierarchical model—instead of a “partnership model” of relationship formed the basis of everyday interaction
• strong bonds within the kinship group—the extended family was tightly knit with lots of intimate relationships
• magical worldviews that provided a sense of “enchantment of spirit” —everything in the cosmos was seen as imbued with spirit
• satisfying economic activity—people worked about 2 ½ hours per day and that labor was intrinsically rewarding
• there was ample time for leisure and recreation
• meaning-packed myths, rituals and ceremonies
• sexual activity was a sacred “peak experience”
• ecological harmony and a sustainable lifestyle

Thus, humans were closely connected to other humans, to their physical environment and to the sacred cosmos. They had many effective avenues for personal meaning and status. Rich and vibrant myths created a communal narrative that was meaningful and added a sense of continuity. A magical worldview and spiritual cosmology integrated all these different elements into a united whole.


An individual’s sense of “self” was located in a complex web of institutions—family, tribe, religion, and economy. While probably not separated from tribal consciousness in the same ways that the modern self is, the “primitive self” existed happily, grounded securely in social structures, anchored in the rhythms of nature and enmeshed in the sacredness of the cosmos.

Pre-modern societies provided, and still continue to provide, individuals with a strong sense of personal (or “ontological”) security . These societies operate on the basis of unquestionable religious cosmologies. Tradition orders time in a ways that limits imaginable futures. People choose their life-course paths from a limited set of options, options which, because they are traditional, give the individual a clear sense of their future as well as socially acceptable frameworks for understanding the connection between past, present and future.

In summary, the controlled use of entheogens by primitive people was supported by shamanistic cultures that lacked centralized authority and lived in harmony with the earth’s cycles. As we have noted the mass psychology of primitive people was noted for its happiness, healthiness, wholeness and connectedness. In this environment addiction would service not useful purpose—would be a psychosocial strategy incompatible with the primitive life project.


Our search for understanding modern drug abuse and addiction leads us to a search for how shamanic practices became destroyed. About 9000 BCE the “Neolithic revolution”, as anthropologist refers to the emergence of agriculture across much of the globe, swept the world, turning primitive foragers and gatherers into farmers. These transformations might have been brought about by climate change or population increases. Social scientists call these new cultural forms “traditional societies”. Agriculture transformed every aspect of human culture—introducing writing, social stratification, trade cities, division of labor, organized warfare, etc. Most people in the West led agriculturally-based lives in small rural towns (often part of large empires) that were marked by large extended families, cultural homogeneity, tightly-knit communities and strong religious traditions. Humans changed from nomadic ways of life to sedentary ways of life and began building permanent communities.

Hierarchical models of human relations dominated these traditional cultures. Riane Eisler, in her pioneering The Chalice and the Blade (1987), has done much to explicate differences between these “dominator cultures” and the prior “partnership cultures”. Some groups had enormous power over other groups: kings over peasants, priests over congregations, men over women, adults over children, our “race” over other “races”. The partnership model , which worked for most of human history, was over turned. There was a marked inequality between the common workers who toiled long hours in the fields, and the ruling religious, political and economic elites in these dominator cultures. It is in these societies that patriarchy, or systems of male domination, emerged across the globe toppling the goddess-centered and earth-affirming spiritualities that dominated Paleolithic life. Most people consider these transformations “the birth of civilization”.

The guiding principles of dominator cultures are sexism, racism, ethical imperialism and violent coercion. Patriarchal cultures insist on authoritarian attitudes in which there is “one right way” and there is little toleration of dissent or opposition. Fundamentalist mentalities, in which individuals claim moral superiority over others, and anti-humanist attitudes which tolerate brutal acts of terror against non-conformers, are central to Neolithic patriarchy.

Our relationship to our mother Earth drastically changed with the advent of agriculture. No longer was she revered as the sacred goddess, but instead was seen as something to exploit, dominate and domesticate. Agriculture unlinks people from wild nature.

The emergence of patriarchy in the Neolithic era led to several related social structural changes which radically altered the role and function that mind-altering plants played in societies. The two most central of these are (1) the State and (2) Patriarchal monotheism (e.g. Christianity). The lethal combination of patriarchal Church and State proved deadly for shamanistic cultures.


Primitive societies are acephalous or stateless societies. Social evolutionary theories hold that these societies are stateless because they did not reach the degree of economic development or level of political differentiation necessary to form a State apparatus. Pierre Clastres rejects such postulates and asserts that many primitive people seek to ward off the formation of a State apparatus. He argues that war, by maintaining the dispersal of groups, is the best mechanism to avert that monster, the State.

Some speculate that the irrigation needed for mass agricultural economies gave rise to powerful governments that could fund and manage such projects. As the men in these cultures continued to consolidate their power, they sought to destroy shamanistic cultures. Oftentimes these states enslaved the people at the empire’s edges and sought to destroy the slaves’ shamanistic cultures and outlawed the use of entheogens.

As stated, the institutions most centrally implicated in destroying the shamanic arts were a lethal combination of Church and State. The ecstasy-denying Patriarchal Christian faith joined forces with fascistic State authority to destroy the knowledge of shamanic arts.

During the last thousands years, a massive assault has been launched against the remnants of shamanistic cultures that were still alive. In the 11th century the Christian Church proclaimed heresies through out Western Europe, and millions of women were burned as witches and midwifes. The medieval Church also went after Jews, Muslims, alchemists, political dissidents, diviners, gays and epileptics. Witches were traditional folk healers who consumed entheogens, practiced ecstatic religion and knew how to ease the pains of childbirth. Witches made brews which contained powerful plant alkaloids, including henbane, wolfbane, belladonna, and mandrake. The Inquisition was a concerted attack on the use of sacred inebriants.

When the shamanic arts are suppressed, elders do not teach young inebriates the sacred knowledge of plant-gods and the proper ways to use these. The ceremonies were first pushed underground, marginalized and hidden from the view of powerful officials. Eventually some were forgotten and lost to history.


For Jonathan Ott, the eminent ethnobotanist, the destruction of the temple at Eleusis by Algaric’s Goths in the fourth century of our era represents the symbolic end of the Entheogenic Age. The rites held annually at Eleusis were the center of a Mystery Religion that lasted two millennia in which initiates imbided an entheogenic potion where they saw “the holy”. Ott regards this momentous event as the beginning of the Pharmacratic Inquisition. Ott explains the Christian hatred of the ancient religions:

Since the Christians were promulgating a religion in which the core mystery, the holy sacrament itself, were conspicuous by its absence, later transmogrified by the smoke and mirror of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation into a specious symbol, an inert substance, a placebo, the imposture would be all-to-evident to anyone who had known the blessing of ecstasy, who had access to personal religious experience.

Sacred inebriants were outlawed and the supreme heresy was to presume to have direct contact with the divine, unmediated by the church hierarchy. Ott states that the Catholic Church took “all the religion out of religion, leaving an empty and hollow shell with no intrinsic value or attraction to mankind, which would only be maintained by hectoring, guilt-mongering and plain brute force”. During the next thousand years, the so-called Dark Ages, the Christian Church launched a series of pogroms and official and unofficial inquisitions against pre-Christian pagan practices and rival faiths, such as Islam, Judaism, Manichaeism and early attempts at science and rationalism. Those dragged to the stake included herbal healers, midwives, alchemists, political dissidents, and anyone else considered deviant by the powers that be. Ott states:

By the advent of the sixteenth century, Europe had been beaten into submission: shamanic ecstasy virtually expunged from the memory of survivors, and the shamanic pharmacopoeia all but forgotten.

The central supporting legal document of the Inquisition was the Malleus Maleficarum, (“A Hammer for the Evil Ones”), a Latin text written in 1484 by Kramer and Spregner, with an introduction by Pope Innocent VIII. It banned the possession of sacred plants commonly used by midwives, and established proper means of torture and execution of heretics and witches.

In the New World, however, the Age of Entheogens continued. When European conquerors and colonialists arrived on these shores, they encountered their own pagan pasts with people consuming sacred plants without the aid of priests. On June 19, 1620 in Mexico City, the Inquisition declared that the use of entheogens was heretical:

The use of the Herb or Root called Peyote…is a superstitious action and reproved as opposed to the purity and sincerity of our Holy Catholic Faith. We decree that henceforth, no person … may use or use of this said herb, this Peyote, or of the others for said effects no others similar … being warned that doing the contrary, besides incurring said censures and penalties, we will proceed against whoever is rebellious and disobedient, as against persons suspect in the holy Catholic faith.

Thus, shamanic practices are closely tied to hunting and gathering societies and to the partnership cultures that they support. The transition to agriculture and “traditional” social organization leads to dominator cultures, with lethal combinations of patriarchal Church and State who jealously destroy shamans and shamanistic practices.

What is the mass psychology found in traditional societies? Humans lost much of that wholeness and connectedness found among primitive tribal people. The domination of women and of nature warped the human psychology. Civilized people have ecocidal tendencies ; we have this unconscious urge to permanently impair the biological viability of our entire planet. Evidence for this is found in the destruction of forests across the globe by various empires that have left these areas deserts.


In the West traditional societies lasted for 10,000 years. Some time after 1800 things began to rapidly change. European empires were colonizing much of the world’s people. Capitalism, an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production, accumulation and the exploitation of workers, emerged as a global system. Technologies rapidly increased. Peasants were forced off the land and took jobs in industrial factories in the newly emerging manufacturing cities. The European Enlightenment had spread ideas about rationality, which changed human minds and human organization. Nation-states consolidated vast power and established instruments of surveillance to control the masses. This cultural confluence of capitalism, industrialism and urbanization is referred to as modernity.

Several features of modern society lead to increased levels of drug use and addiction:

1. changes in social organization have negatively impacted our mass psychology, leading to high levels of anxiety and alienation;
2. a medico-pharmacological industry has emerged dedicated to the proposition that anxiety and alienation are best taken care of through mind-altering chemicals;
3. a continued assault on the shamanic arts has all but erased notions of controlled use from our collective memory and have created a dionysian counterculture divorced from shamanic wisdom;
4. social transformations such as transportation networks, globalized market economics and plantation agriculture have greatly increased the availability .

Let’s look a bit more closely at those changes that have created anxiety and alienation.


The modern mass psychology is very different from the wholeness and connectedness found among primitive people. Alienation is a term that refers to a sense of loss or estrangement. In critical social science, our understanding of alienation is greatly indebted to Karl Marx and his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Marx argued that alienation is characteristic feature of modern capitalism. When social structures oppress people, denying them their essential humanity, the result is alienation. Melvin Seeman (1959) states that the psychological state of alienation is comprised of powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, normlessness and self-estrangement.

The globalization of capitalism has produced vast structural changes in everyday life that often leave people feeling dislocated, devoid of meaning and alienated. While our economy booms and more people enjoy the good life, a massive demoralization plagues our nation.

In traditional societies, customs and beliefs anchored people’s lives in predictable, stable practices. This gives people “ontological security”. In post-traditional societies an indefinite range of potential courses of action are available to people. The resulting ontological insecurity leads to high levels of anxiety. Lifestyle choices become central to self-identity, as people weave together a coherent story about their lives from the fabric of past, present and anticipated futures .

People seek out relationships centered on authenticity, self-disclosure, and the pursuit of similar lifestyles, what Giddens calls “pure relationships”. These social relations are only continued insofar as they are thought to be satisfying to both parties. Because these relationships are by nature contingent and susceptible to dissolution, this creates anxiety.

To recap the mass psychology of modernity: modern people feel “disconnected” from the earth, from other people, from their true selves. We feel fragmented, alienated, ad insecure. Our communities are disintegrating. We are spiritually bankrupt. We have become lost souls—disenchanted, dissatisfied, lonely, bored, and sexually unsatisfied. Overall, modernity has resulted in a vast weakening of social ties. The intimate connection of shared experience and interdependence of traditional societies are loosened.


Secularization, a term used to describe the receding of religious belief, has both positive and negative consequences. As rational thought spreads throughout cultures, people let go of magical worldviews and superstitious thinking. They also turn away from a mystical mentality that imbued everyday life with enchantment.

It is debatable to what extent modern Western societies have become secular. While religious ideas do not have a strangle-hold on the Western mind as they did in the dark ages, and a pluralism of religious and non-religious cosmologies are tolerated, some 95% of Americans believe in God, and a fundamentalist theocracy controls Washington’s political power.

Modern societies celebrate the Apollonian and repress the Dionysian. Absolute adherence to order and stability robs humanity of our essential meaning. Conscious calculation and rationality have taken away from the experience of the sacred in the form of “jouissance” (or ecstatic pleasure). If one closes off all avenues to jouissance in a world based on the rational ego and capitalist production and efficiency, this will impoverish human experience. It is impossible: jouissance will break out anyway.

In the West monotheism has become the dominant form of spirituality. It has actively sought to stamp out shamanistic religions around the globe. Western missionaries and evangelicals are active in destroying the last remnants of archaic religions, which they consider demonic.


A key social structural feature that explains the different use of entheogens in world-historic cultures is the level of political integration. Primitive societies are not stateless because they have not “evolved” to the level of social organization where a State would emerge. They are actively anti-state, employing the “war machine” to remain happily anarchic. The shamanistic tradition that celebrated ritualized intoxication, ecstatic frenzy and entheogen spirituality did not simply “recede” as human social organization “evolved”. Again, the “Old Religion” was brutally repressed by nature-hating, woman-loathing, power-hungry men and the dominator cultures they sought to impose upon all others.

The State is a set of institutions that has the authority to make laws which govern society. Max Weber argued that the state has a monopoly over the use of legitimate violence within a specific territory. The state includes all the governmental agencies and bureaucracies, including the armed forces, civil service and local legislators.

The modern era has witnessed a mass expansion of the prohibition of intoxicants. This has not occurred without resistance. What we find are cycles of oscillation from toleration to disapproval and back again.

Prohibition is the outcome of a small group of fanatical do-gooders who were the survivors of the 19th century radical temperance movement. The history of the making of a world prohibitionary regime reveals coercion and imperialist racism as its guiding principles. The moral entrepreneurs of the prohibitionist movement were messianic social reformers for whom any means justified their end goal of prohibiting drugs.

There have been three waves of temperance movements (Room ?). The first temperance movement culminated in 1855 when thirteen states and territories prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The second temperance movement culminated in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and the Volstead Act of 1919. We are currently in the third wave, which began with the forming of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1979.

It is difficult to summarize the effects of modernity on drug use. Prohibitions have largely banned the use of entheogens across the globe. The sacred use of these plants is outlawed and all but forgotten. The pharmacological industry reaps billions on selling mood-enhancing and stabilizing medicines. Huge underground black markets have emerged to satisfy needs. A mass disinformation campaign has pumped out lots of drug propaganda. Criminalization of drugs has left hundreds of thousands in our country’s prisons. All the while the state makes billions on alcohol and tobacco.


I have argued that addiction is a modern invention that can only been understood in terms of a society in which traditions have been swept away more fully than ever before. To understand what these traditions are which have been swept away we have briefly examined drug use in different historical contexts. Specifically, I have advanced a “critical drug use theory” which has focused on the relations between different “modes of production” and the ways that our innate needs to alter consciousness are adapted to these changing economic circumstances.

Beginning with our most ancient human ancestors, the hunting and gathering societies which compose the first 90,000 years of human history, we find that the substances we often refer to as “drugs”, are plants used in sacred ceremonies. These entheogens are the sacraments of shamanistic religions across the globe. While undoubtedly some consumers abused these plants, and probably even became physiological dependent, on the whole psychoactive substances played positive roles in the lives of these people through “controlled use”, in which appropriate patterns of drug are highly curtailed. I also noted how social organization and mass psychology created climates that supported this productive use of psychoactive plant medicines. Primitive people were intricately connected to the world around them and had a sense of wholeness. Agriculture changed our relationships to each other and to the earth. Hierarchical models of interacting with other humans became dominant. Our relationship to the earth became one of domination.

Modern life has made things vastly worse in terms of our mass psychology. We are all now in a lot of pain.

The social transformations of the modern era impacted the individual’s connectedness to the social, ecological and spiritual worlds. Individuals have been set adrift in a sea of misery, having lost all existential moorings. It is within this immiserated context that addictions flourish.

Addicts are misguided shamans with a thirst for wholeness and sacred jouissance. Having pursued desire to deep excess, they have transgressed the boundaries of bourgeois convention, exploring repressed fantasies and mapping artificial paradises.

In order to construct a genealogy of addiction we have examined the mass psychology of human history, examining how various traditions have affected the individual sense of wholeness and connectedness.


Riane Eisler. 1987. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future.

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. The Transformation of Intimacy:

Terence McKenna. 1992. Food of the Gods: The Search for the Orginal Tree of Knowledge.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn. 2005. Archaeology: The Key Concepts.

Schultes, RE, A. Hoffman and C. R├Ątsch. 1998. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers. 


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