This paper examines four specialist medical inebriety institutions in Victoria, Australia between 1870 and 1930, which positioned themselves in distinct ways. It analyses how the treatment in each institution was located within wider medical approaches and contemporary medical ideas and practice.
Medical journals and texts, newspaper articles, government reports and institutional archives are used in the analysis.
Alcohol treatment institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were of several types, differentiated according to treatment approaches and their underlying premises as to the nature of the disease being treated, the particular patient groups for which they catered and their funding models and capacity to take patients committed for treatment under legislation. The institutional types identified in other Anglophone countries in this period can be extended to Australia, with some local variations in the timing of the appearance of the models, the longevity of institutions and gender of patients. In Australia there was no tradition of mutual patient support, as seen at the time in the United States. Each institution represented itself differently, in particular in terms of its particular medical model, although the treatments in practice differed less than in theory. The models employed allowed each institution to position itself in relation to trends in medical theory and practice, in particular to different conceptualizations of the type of disease being treated. Evaluating treatment models for alcohol problems in terms of medical theory and practice of the time can explain contrasting approaches.
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