We have been down this road before. In the mid-1800s the U.S. as in the grip of an opioid epidemic with striking parallels to our current situation today. With roots in traditional folk medicine, opium was a prevalent and well-known cure for a variety of ailments. Doctors seeking to distinguish their credentials and services promoted opium-derived products like morphine and delivery innovations like the hypodermic syringe.
In Inventing the Addict, Zieger tells the story of how the addict, a person uniquely torn between disease and desire, emerged from a variety of earlier figures such as drunkards, opium-eating scholars, vicious slave masters, dissipated New Women, and queer doctors. Drawing on a broad range of literary and cultural material, including canonical novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula, she traces the evolution of the concept of addiction through a series of recurrent metaphors: exile, self-enslavement, disease, and vampirism. She shows how addiction took on multiple meanings beyond its common association with intoxication or specific habit-forming substances—it was an abiding desire akin to both sexual attraction and commodity fetishism, a disease that strangely failed to meet the requirements of pathology, and the citizen’s ironic refusal to fulfill the promise of freedom.