The etymological trail of drug use.
There are two sides to drugs. They can either be the life-saving preparations we ingest to fight harmful bacteria and combat serious illness, or they can be the devastating concoctions that destroy our personalities, our bodies and can lead to undignified and frequently painful death. Society needs the former but conducts a seemingly endless war against the latter as it tries to restrict the flow of the so-called ‘recreational drugs’ onto our streets. The addicts, on the other hand, do everything they can to outwit the authorities as they and their suppliers become ever more inventive in the ways they think of for smuggling marijuana, cocaine, ganja and countless other substances past border guards, customs officials and drug squad officers in order to satisfy their craving.
Linguistically, although they are probably unaware of it, these addicts owe their epithet to Roman law. In ancient Rome financial matters were taken very seriously and there were strict (some might say harsh) rules and regulations governing the borrowing and lending of money. For instance, if a debtor fell behind with his repayments he or she could be taken to court where the usual decision was that he be given a period of thirty days to come up with the money to clear his debt. If he failed to do so in the allotted time he would be assigned to his creditor who was required to treat him in a manner prescribed by law. He would keep the poor man in chains for sixty days, display him on three consecutive market days (held every nine days) and try to find someone who would take him off his hands for a fee equal to the amount of debt owed. Whoever paid the debt would have the man assigned to him as his slave. And the Latin for ‘assigned’ was addictus, from the prefix ad ‘to’ and the infinitive dicere ‘to say’, the implication being that transaction was more often than not a verbal one rather than a written one. Either way the result was the same: one human being became a slave to another much in the same way that, in the modern sense of the word, an addict is enslaved by his craving for his next fix.