Society Lecture 2008: What's so new about the new abstentionism? History and treatment policy


Professor Virginia Berridge

Professor of History Director of Centre for History in Public Health

Virginia Berridge is Professor of History at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London and Director of the Centre for History in Public Health She is the author of books on the history of substance use and policy, on HIV/AIDS policy and on the history of the relationship between evidence and policy. Her most recent book is Marketing Health .Smoking and the discourse of public health, 1945-c2000 (Oxford University Press, 2007). She recently produced a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on temperance and its relevance to current alcohol policy and a report for the Alcohol Education and Research Council (with Rachel Herring and Betsy Thom) on binge drinking in historical context. In addition to the Society Lecture, she is also involved in the project on alcohol and Polish public health posters which is a poster presentation at the conference. Future plans include an historical analysis of UK public health in international context from the 1970s onward.

What’s so new about the new abstentionism? History and treatment policy

Recent discussion in the drugs field has concentrated on the rise of the ‘new abstentionism’ and divisions between new abstentionists and the advocates of methadone maintenance. Linking treatment with the criminal justice
agenda also seems to be a new development . This lecture will take a longer view. It will examine the rise of the notion of treatment in the second half of the nineteenth century. It will analyse how treating inebriates and later addicts came to be seen as a legitimate medical activity and also, and importantly, one where the state had a role to play. It will examine the key decades in the subsequent history: the 1920s, the 1960s and 70s; HIV/AIDS in the 1980s; and more recently.

Some of the current debates build on long standing tensions and interconnections between criminal justice, medical and public health approaches to treatment, and tensions between abstinence and moderation as legitimate outcomes. But the lecture will not simply argue that there is nothing new under the sun. It will seek to understand what might be new as well as long standing in the current situation.


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