The Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) was founded in 1884 as the Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety. Then President, Norman Kerr, delivered his inaugural address on the topic of inebriety – positioning it as a disease requiring treatment, as opposed to criminal deviance requiring punishment:

“Inebriety is for the most part the issue of certain physical conditions, is an offspring of material parentage, is the natural product of a depraved, debilitated, or defective nervous organization. Whatever else it may be, in a host of cases it is a true disease, as unmistakably a disease as is goutor epilepsy or insanity.”

In 1990, Addiction published a history of the origins and early years of the Society. This identified three themes, which dominated the Society’s early work:

  • the crusading advocacy of a disease theory of inebriety as the scientific alternative to what was seen as an outmoded moralistic approach
  • the certainty that medical concepts and treatment were the humane alternative to the penal approach
  • the belief that the State and the medical profession should form an alliance to achieve these ends

Membership rules at the time maintained a medical focus for the Society:

“Qualified medical practitioners may be admitted members on payment of an annual subscription of not less than five shillings. Registered medical students and others interested in the work of the Association are eligible as Associates, but with no power of voting in the elections or taking part in the business of the Association, on the payment of the same annual subscription.”

Today, the Society for the Study of Addiction remains a membership organisation, but represents people with diverse professional backgrounds and perspectives – from psychiatry and sociology, to neurobiology and pharmacology. Overall, the Society strives to advance the scientific understanding of addiction and pursues this in a range of ways, including through holding an Annual Conference and PhD Symposium, running two academic journals, funding early career researchers, producing podcasts, and publishing original essays and interviews.

Below is a timeline of Society Presidents, including Mary Scharlieb, who became the first female President of the Society in 1912 – six years before the first women in the UK were given the right to vote.