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Despite more than a century of attempts to control the use of addictive substances, prevalence rates continue to grow for most of them. Exceptions are alcohol and tobacco use, which, nevertheless, remain major public health concerns. Why have these attempts at drug control had little success? This question is addressed in the histories of substance use that are examined in this essay. While these studies show that there are multiple histories, definitions, and frames of addiction that have shifted over time, some broad themes emerge. Foremost is the argument that the classification of a substance as licit or illicit has had more to do with cultural values than with the substance itself. Historians, skeptical of essentialist categories, have questioned whether addictions are diseases and the wisdom of selectively criminalizing drug use. They argue that the socioeconomic status of users has influenced attitudes toward addicts and the legal classifications of substances.