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Depending on the historical period, culture, and available knowledge, addiction has been defined and theorized in numerous ways. Approaches to solving the problem of addiction have been similarly diverse. Medical knowledge is still fairly limited, and the debate still continues to this day on whether or not addiction is a moral choice. During the nineteenth century various forms of addiction including but not limited to opium and alcohol had reached epidemic levels. Consequently, the subject of addiction is a major theme in many Victorian novels. In the nineteenth century, Susan Zieger explains, the word “addiction” was used to describe a “devotion, pursuit, penchant, or fondness” (Zieger). She adds that it was not until later that the definition included drugs as the “penchants and pursuits,” showing that addiction had not always been linked specifically with substance abuse (Zieger). Zieger states that discourses revolving around addiction typically had to do with “materialism, physicalism, and evolution” and notes that while scientists attributed the disease to heredity, others “argued that individuals ultimately retained control of their own wills, desires, habits, and impulses; by choosing a bad habit, they committed a sin or harmed themselves” (Zieger). She notes, however, that psychologist William B. Carpenter held the slightly more advanced theory “that repetitiveness could form habit,” which might “lie beyond the will’s power to check it” (Zieger). The dominant scientific theory of addiction in nineteenth-century Europe was degeneration theory, which “defined degeneration as the progressive accumulation of disabilities, such as epilepsy and imbecility over generations, leading toward extinction” (London 100). Theorists suggested that “substance abuse could trigger this condition and so harm both the nation and its progeny” (100).



Thesis Comittee

Dr. Kathleen Vejvoda, Thesis Advisor

Dr. Kimberly Davis, Committee Member

Dr. Halina Adams, Committee Member

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Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.