How Alcohol, Cocaine, Nicotine, and Opiates Have Changed Human History
by Frances R. Frankenburg, MD
March 2014, 349pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-2931-4
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-2932-1
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Addicting substances have literally changed the course of history.

A psychiatrist examines how the world's four most important mind-altering substances— alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opiates—have played a significant role throughout human history, and explains how these powerful drugs affect the brain and cause addiction.

Alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opiates have spurred some of the greatest human pleasure and pain across time. Providing information that ranges as widely as from ancient Egypt to modern times, this book comprehensively addresses the good, the bad, and the very ugliest aspects of these substances, examining their history, their effects on the brain and body, and on civilization itself. Frances R. Frankenburg, MD, employs accessible, everyday language to explain the neurology of addiction and describe how these “brain-robbing” substances work to hijack the brain’s pleasure systems to create powerful addictions. The author also provides perspective into the intertwined, inescapable, and often uneasy relationship between these substances and human culture, economics, and politics—for example, how individuals become physically or psychologically addicted to alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opiates, while governments become financially “addicted” to the revenue, such as taxes, that can be collected from the sale and use of these substances.


  • Presents a historical review of four plant-derived drugs—alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, and opiates—and their effects throughout human civilization, as well as a fascinating exploration of the mystery and misery of addiction
  • Provides comprehensive explanations of medical and psychiatric effects of these drugs
  • Supplies stories of people who made discoveries about these drugs or who had their lives altered by them
  • Describes the discovery of the way in which the brain works
  • Includes illustrations of brain pathways and of the four plants of origin for these drugs, and maps showing drug trade triangles
Frances R. Frankenburg, MD, is professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and chief of inpatient psychiatry at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, MA. Her published works include ABC-CLIO's Vitamin Discoveries and Disasters: History, Science, and Controversies. She received her medical education at the University of Toronto.


"Brain-Robbers is an engaging overview of how individuals, governments, and societies have interacted with four major drugs of use, abuse, and trade over the course of human history. This . . . makes the book's scope unique. . . . comprehensive and engaging. The inclusion of numerous historical anecdotes and asides makes a potentially dry history relevant to a modern worldview. The writing is nontechnical . . . Overall, this is a useful introduction to the human history of drug use. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers."—Choice, November 6, 2014

"Brain-Robbers is a wonderful book of great importance. . . . [It] provides a splendid trip through the brain, culture, and pharmacology of addictions."—PsycCRITIQUES, April 15, 2015
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