Most people who are struggling with addiction go to a rehabilitation center, counseling and get the proper medication to get through the steps to a better life. But you wouldn’t believe some of the more drastic steps people have gone through just to get clean.
Here are seven of them:
Burn TherapyUp until 2004—and, allegedly, more recently—the Chinese were using a controversial technique to cure drug addicts: stereotactic ablations. Using localized heat, doctors would incinerate the pleasure center in their patients' brains, barring them from experiencing drug-related pleasures—or any kind of pleasure at all. Faced with pressure from the Chinese Ministry of Health and Western outcry, the Chinese government banned the practice in 2004, but as many 2,000 people have received burn therapy from outlaw physicians and other sources since then.
Concentration CampsChina and Cambodia have two of the broadest and most developed drug detention networks on the planet. Anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 Chinese are held at these centers, and are often forced to perform menial labor without pay for the benefit of private institutions. In Cambodia, it's not just the drug addicts who are swept off the streets in vans and dumped into rural camps. Homeless people, homosexuals, prostitutes, and other undesirables are placed there as well. In both countries, people accused of drug offenses are raped, beaten, forced to go without proper medical attention or treatment, worked long hours, and put through brutal exercise regimens.
VigilantismWith the dissolution of the Soviet Union, compulsory drug rehabilitation in Russia is a thing of the past. But a new authority has stepped in to take the government's place. In Yekaterinburg, where drug abuse has been a problem since the fall of the Iron Curtain, vigilantes—led by fiery local businessman Eugeny Roisman—have launched a private war on drugs and their users. Their methods are nothing short of draconian—Roisman and his gang have burned down the homes of those suspected to be drug dealers, beat up accused users and dealers, and opened a rehab center infamous for its harsh methods. Addicts are handcuffed in their bunks and given no medication to ease their withdrawal symptoms. Roisman's methods, far from inspiring public outcry, have been lauded. Roisman was even elected to the Russian Parliament in 2003.
QuackeryDr. Leslie Keeley, an army surgeon during the Civil War, opened a sanatorium in Dwight, Illinois to cure persons addicted to opiates or alcohol. Famously declaring that "Alcohol is a disease and I can cure it," Keeley's clinics spread across the United States and Europe during the late 19th century. Keeley's patients paid $160 for a 31-day stay at one of the doctor's retreats, where their whiskey or opiate rations were tapered off daily, and they were given daily injections and tonics to drink. Keeley touted these tonics as containing "bichloride of gold," but when tested, they were found to contain almost 28% alcohol, and included such useless ingredients as quinine (a malaria treatment), aloe extracts (laxatives), and ammonium chloride (a licorice-flavoring agent). The injections Keeley's patients were given were downright alarming. They included boracic acid (which can be used as an antiseptic or an insecticide), strychnine (a poisonous alkaloid which causes convulsions and asphyxiation), atropine (a derivative of deadly nightshade), and occasionally codeine or cocaine. It’s a small wonder many of Keeley's patients relapsed, had seizures, suffered permanent brain damage, went insane, or died after leaving his care.
Forced SterilizationIn the early 1900s, a peculiar belief overtook the American consciousness—drug addiction, poverty, mental disabilities, and criminal tendencies were hereditary disorders. To that end, thirty US states passed voluntary or mandatory sterilization laws for drug addicts, as well as the "diseased," "dependent," and "feeble-minded," under the belief that these people were incapable of regulating their own reproductive activities. Some states even went so far as to set up Eugenics Boards. North Carolina sterilized almost 8,000 people between 1930 and 1980. In 1970, Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, a Puerto Rican physician, founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and rang the death knell for the sterilization trend in America. Rodriguez-Trias was elected president of the American Public Health Association in 1993.
InstitutionalizationWhen the criminalization of drugs in the early 20th century led to the popular perception of drug addicts as criminals and deviants, specialized care for addiction disappeared. People addicted to substances were now treated as though they were criminally ill, and chucked into asylums alongside the insane. Families who had no idea how to care for their addicted family member would institutionalize them. Psychiatric institutions in early 20th-century America were not places where the mentally ill would go to receive treatment. They were similar to prisons, where ashamed families could dump their relations and avoid the shame of having an addict around the house. The doctors at these asylums and sanatoria believed that the cure for a mental disease such as addiction—obviously a moral failing and a weakness, not an affliction of the brain—was physical punishment. Addicts would be dunked in ice water, placed in straitjackets, and locked up in isolation for long periods of time. It was thought that this treatment would banish the thought of substance abuse from the patient's mind and forcibly cure them of addiction. It didn’t.
Purging and BloodlettingSanatoriums and psychiatric institutions have existed in some form since the 16th century. In the early days of medicine, doctors and healers often believed that diseases of the mind, including addiction, were due to demonic possession and evil spirits. They also believed that bloodletting and vomiting would purge the body and soul of these demons and allow the patient to heal. Another popular theory—stemming from ancient Greece—held that a person's health depended on the precise balance of four bodily "humors" (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). Doctors would often administer emetics to patients to induce vomiting, purging their body of poisonous influences, and apply leeches or scalpels to their skin to bleed them and return their humors to their proper balance. Needless to say, these treatments were often ineffective and often weakened the patient further.