Study Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Opium Addiction

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Opium Addiction

In 1800, Coleridge visited a doctor to seek relief from chronic rheumatic pain. The doctor prescribed laudanum, the liquid form of opium. Laudanum was a common and effective painkiller that, unbeknownst to doctors, was extremely addictive. Coleridge developed a dependency on laudanum that would last for 16 years. In the 19th century, chemical addiction was not understood as a disease the way it is now. It was believed that people who couldn't break their habit out of sheer will were weak. Coleridge felt disgusted and ashamed by his disease. "I have prayed with drops of agony on my Brow, trembling not only before the Justice of my Maker, but even before the Mercy of my Redeemer. 'I gave thee so many Talents. What hast thou done with them'?" Coleridge wrote to a friend who admonished him for his drug use. "You bid me rouse myself—go, bid a man paralytic in both arms rub them briskly together, & that will cure him. Alas! (he would reply) that I cannot move my arms is my Complaint & my misery."

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