In Victorian-era Europe and North America, laudanum was lauded as a cure-all remedy and creative aid by artists and civilians alike. As a liquid composed mostly of alcohol, laudanum was mostly taken orally, buccally and sublingually to soothe physical and mental ailments. However, as a form of the highly addictive drug opium, laudanum is far from a healthy elixir. Today, pure opium is not used in most medical practices and laudanum has been replaced by safer and more sophisticated opiate medications.

Even though laudanum is no longer widely prescribed, anyone who tries this drug may develop a laudanum addiction. If you or someone you love can’t stop using laudanum, help is available. The Recovery Village offers effective drug and alcohol treatment at centers across the United States. Call  888.964.3731 today to speak with someone who can answer your questions about laudanum addiction and guide you toward a treatment program that meets your needs.

What Is Laudanum?

By definition, laudanum is a tincture, which is a solution of a dissolved drug and alcohol. Laudanum, or tincture of opium as it is called in the medical community, is comprised of 10 percent opium powder by weight and varying amounts of alcohol. Opium tinctures like laudanum usually contain 25 percent ethanol (alcohol) on average, with some variants containing 60–90 percent alcohol.

The short answer to, “What is laudanum?” is that laudanum is a highly concentrated mixture of several types of addictive substances, including:

Today, laudanum uses are few as modern day advances in medicine have yielded safer and more effective medications. However, in the rare cases that the drug is prescribed, laudanum can alleviate symptoms of:

  • Acute or persistent diarrhea: If medicine like Imodium is not effective in treating severe diarrhea, some doctors may resort to laudanum.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome: Laudanum may soothe symptoms of acute opiate withdrawal in newborns whose mothers were dependent on opioids during pregnancy.
  • Moderate to severe pain: Like oxycodone and hydrocodone, laudanum is an opioid that can relieve physical pain.

Laudanum History

Although the origins of opium, the active ingredient in laudanum, date back to the ancient Sumerian culture, laudanum was first created in the sixteenth century by the alchemist Paracelsus. A standardized form of the drug was created in the seventeenth century and sold in Europe and North America as a cure-all medicine. Laudanum use skyrocketed during the 1800s, when it was readily available in stores, grocers and even pubs to people of every social standing.

According to laudanum history, the drug was used to soothe all manner of physical and mental ailments, from headaches to melancholy and “women’s troubles,” or menstrual and menopausal discomfort. Laudanum was also hailed as improving creativity, likely due to the euphoric effects of its opium content. As a result, many famous artists and poets dabbled in laudanum use during the Victorian era, including writers Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

However, even when it was used in small doses as a creative aid, laudanum was still highly addictive. Coleridge admitted to composing the famous poem, “Kubla Khan,” after waking from an opium-induced state. The writer later became addicted to opium. He wrote letters to trusted friends about the physical and mental laudanum effects, now recognized as withdrawal symptoms, that he was experiencing. Like Coleridge, many people suffered from a physical dependence on laudanum during the 1800s, but sadly, the dangers of this drug were not fully realized because the concept of addiction was not understood in this era.

Laudanum Effects

Because of its opiate components, laudanum affects the body in many of the same ways that opioids do. Laudanum effects can include:

  • Euphoria: Opiates like laudanum bind to the brain’s opioid receptors and release a rush of dopamine in the brain.
  • Constipation: Given that laudanum helps quell diarrhea, a high dose of this drug could lead to constipation.
  • Respiratory depression: This is due to the high percentage of alcohol in laudanum.
  • Physical dependence: Because it contains several opioids, including opium, morphine and codeine, laudanum is highly addictive. Continuous use of laudanum over time can make someone physically dependent on the drug, meaning they experience withdrawal symptoms when not using it.
  • Alcohol use disorder: Depending on how much alcohol is in the opium tincture, a person can develop an alcohol use disorder from laudanum.
  • Opioid use disorder: One of the most dangerous laudanum effects is that it can spur opiate addiction or an opioid use disorder. Addressing a laudanum use disorder may require someone to seek professional treatment.

Other side effects of laudanum may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular breathing
  • Dysphoria, or sadness
  • Itchy skin (common with morphine)
  • Pinpoint pupils, or miosis

Laudanum and Opium

With tinctures like laudanum, opium is the main ingredient, and laudanum is essentially an opium extract. As a reddish-brown and bitter liquid, laudanum resembles opium in its raw form when it is extracted from the opium poppy plant. Because of its concentration of opium, laudanum is a highly addictive drug.

Is Laudanum Addictive?

Laudanum is highly addictive because it contains several habit-forming drugs: opium, morphine, codeine and alcohol. Historically, laudanum addiction was a common but unrecognized disease of the nineteenth century. People frequently used the drug to soothe everything from headaches to depression, but unfortunately, physical dependence and addiction were not understood at this time. As a result, laudanum addiction went largely untreated. “Laudanum was responsible for more suicides by overdose than any other poison throughout the 1800s,” according to the Museum of Health Care.

Treatment for Laudanum Addiction

Laudanum addiction can be treated in the same way that opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders are treated. People can seek treatment for laudanum addiction at a detox clinic, outpatient facility or rehab center like The Recovery Village. For the best results, clients can participate in a continuum of care programs, beginning with medically assisted detox and ending with aftercare.

If you or a loved one need treatment for laudanum addiction or another substance use disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Representatives at The Recovery Village are available to take your call, answer your questions about addiction and explain the rehab process. The telephone call is toll-free and completely confidential, and you don’t have to commit to a program to learn more about treatment. Your recovery is possible, call  888.964.3731 today to get started.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.