In ancient Rome, "addiction" was "a formal giving over or delivery by sentence of court; hence, a surrender, or dedication, of any one to a master." (OED) Most frequently it denoted the relationship of a debtor to his lender. From the mid-seventeenth century, the term acquires its self-reflexive connotation, describing a devotion to a pursuit or a habit; in this century it is also understood as a penchant or leaning. Throughout the nineteenth century, the term "addiction" was used in this way, to describe a devotion, pursuit, penchant, or fondness. People were "addicted" to writing letters, or botany, or the newspaper. Anthony Trollope, for example, uses it to limn a social characteristic of the Greshams in Doctor Thorne (1858), who were "never addicted to a false humility." In the latter part of the century, it came to include drugs such as morphine, heroin, chloral, and cocaine as some of many penchants and pursuits. Before that, a range of terms was used to describe the excessive consumption of alcohol. From the 1840s, a condition known as dipsomania is defined as persistent drunkenness, or "a morbid and insatiable craving for alcohol, often of a paroxysmal character." In 1852, a Swedish physician named Magnus Huss coined the term alcoholism to denote both the action of alcohol on the human system, and the diseased condition produced by alcohol. Throughout the century, medical and lay people also used the term "habitual drunkenness" and "habitual drunkard" to distinguish a pathological condition from ordinary drunkenness, which was less frequent and could be brought on by harmless celebrations or good company.

In the 1880s, the first British professional society devoted to investigating drug and alcohol habituations, coined a new term to describe them; it called itself The Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety. "Inebriety" carried with it the theory of the Society's founder, Norman Kerr, that such habits were hereditary physical diseases. However, a loose variety of terms carried the same connotation . There was "alcoholic inebriety" and "morphine inebriety"; an endless list of manias: " opiomania," "morphinomania," "chloralomania," "etheromania," "chlorodynomania," and even "chloroformomania"; and - isms such as "cocainism" and "morphinism." For the most part, these terms were not used specifically and consistently, thereby reflecting the multifarious state of nineteenth-century psychology and physiology. During the First World War, the Society - under the new leadership of William Collins - began favoring the term "addiction" over "inebriety," because it wanted to advance a new theory, that it was a "disease of the will" or a problem more psychological than physical. Only then did "addiction" begin to designate a pathological relationship to drugs specifically, and shed its sense of devotion or pursuit. "Addict" now came to refer to an identity that it had never designated before. Therefore, "addiction in the nineteenth century" is a somewhat misleading title. What we are really exploring is a network of discourses on habit, vice, and pathological consumption that laid the groundwork for addiction to emerge.

Last modified 9 December 2022