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ADDICTION CONCEPTS AND INTERNATIONAL CONTROL
Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs
Psychoactive substances were the glue of empires in the period of European colonial expansion from about 1500 until the late 19th century. Alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, opium, chocolate – for each of these psychoactive substances there is a tale to be told (Courtwright, 2001; Jankowiak and Bradburd, 2003) -- as also for sugar (Mintz, 1995), if it can be counted as a psychoactive substance. From the point of view of those seeking to create markets and dependence on trade, psychoactive substances were an obvious choice. The demand for axes or beads or other “dry goods” could eventually be satiated, but psychoactive substances have the advantage that they are consumed and thus used up, and that once the demand for them has been created, it becomes self-sustaining.
When the demand had been established,
psychoactive substances then became a favourite commodity from which to extract
revenues for the state, either in the form of excise taxes or of a state-run or
farmed-out monopoly. The
In the interests of financing their empires,
European states had no compunctions about forcing open markets for their
psychoactive wares. The most notorious
such cases were the Opium Wars which
Problems from the use of psychoactive substances had already been well recognized from antiquity. Concerning alcohol, for instance, the Jewish Bible associates alcohol use with a variety of negative outcomes, including incest (Genesis 19:31-34), seizures (I Samuel 25:36-38), addiction (Isaiah 28:7), hallucinations, blackouts, injury, misery, anxiety and remorse (Proverbs 23:29-33; see O’Brien and Seller, 1982). Classic Chinese poets were also well aware of adverse effects of drinking: “In the city when I am drunk I disturb the peace of the streets”, wrote Tu Fu in the 8th century of the Common Era; in the 1600s, a poem by Ch’ien Ch’ien-Ti notes that “Love of wine makes people wild/... Even when his insides rot, a drinker won’t quit drinking” (Lee, 1986).
The globalization of the age of European empires and the industrial revolution, however, changed the circumstances of availability of psychoactive substances, as well as the living conditions of many people. Distilled spirits changed from being a medicine to being an article of everyday consumption, and alcoholic beverages became industrial commodities. Where production of alcoholic beverages had been seasonal and keyed to the availability of crop surpluses, alcohol was now always available to those with cash in the market economy. The availability of such substances as opium, tobacco, tea and coffee increased dramatically as global and imperial trade developed. Habits of heavy use which previously had been available only to the wealthy came within the reach of the poor.
The initial impulse for international drug controls, occurring in the heyday of the international alcohol prohibition movement, was thus in substantial part a concern about imperial exploitation through the supply of drugs (Carstairs, 2003). The emphasis of the Hague Convention was on market controls, with very little attention to the user. The user appears only in a reference to “abuse” in the prefatory clauses, which talk of a determination to bring about “the gradual suppression of the abuse of opium, morphine, and cocaine as also of the drugs prepared or derived from these substances, which give rise or might give rise to similar abuses”, and in terms of a “habit” in Article 17, which called for the parties agreeing “to restrict and control the habit of smoking opium” in Chinese territory they controlled (International, 1912).
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