The History of Psychedelics and AA

It may come as a shock to hear, but the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was a believer in LSD as a way to cure alcoholism. There is far more to it than that, but Bill W. and his relationship with LSD left an indelible mark.

Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA, had been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 20 years. He also lived with debilitating depression, something that impacted him deeply for decades. His foray into psychedelics is, as he believed, credited with helping to mitigate the symptoms of his illness.

Psychedelics and AA

Though Wilson became a firm believer in the positive abilities of LSD, not everyone was on board. In particular, Dr. Jack Norris, the Chairman of the AA Board of Trustees, felt that it was a controversial topic and urged Wilson to cease his use and research of LSD in the treatment of alcoholism and depression.

It was not only those within AA leadership that became concerned but some of the base who had initially credited the program with saving their lives. Given the treatment of psychedelics during that period, including research funding issues presented by the Nixon administration, Wilson was solely on his own in his beliefs.

The AA movement was fully against Wilson’s suggestions. According to the 1984 AA World Services in New York, “Most AAs were violently opposed to his experimenting with a mind-altering substance.”

A Shift in Thinking

The matter of psychedelics as a treatment for alcoholism went largely dormant for years, up until 1990, when Rick Strassman, MD, ran the first government-approved psychedelic research. AA still has not accepted Wilson’s recommendations, though it remains a topic of debate among some to this day, with many believing that he was ahead of his time.

Research on the subject has since gained steam once again. Recent studies conducted at NYU, using psilocybin, indicate promising results in treating alcohol use disorder. Prior studies had already indicated that psilocybin is an effective way of treating both depression and anxiety in those who had severe forms of cancer.

It is believed that through a combination of therapy and prescribing psilocybin, treating mental health and chronic disorders – like addiction – can become more effective.

More recent studies have expanded to include other forms of addiction, such as cigarette smoking. There is still some uncertainty as to how effective this form of treatment is in the long term, and whether certain individuals may prove to benefit more than others.

The Challenge Presented by Addiction

Though it is important to note that no one should experiment with psychedelics in treatment of addiction on their own accord, research has shown to be promising. Given the broad scope in which psychedelics can be used to treat mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and addiction, further studies will no doubt be driven forward.

The problem with treating addictions historically is that there is more involved than mere chemical dependency. Even after short-term withdrawals have gone away, there is the reality of living without the stress release that came with the habit.

Inherently, those suffering from addiction last a few weeks or months, but can be triggered back into old habits by stressful situations. The reason why psychedelics are believed to be so effective is because they address a psychological need as well.

It remains to be seen whether psychedelics will become a common means of treating mental health disorders of this kind in the future. With a resurgence in studies and education, the future certainly looks promising.

Final Thoughts

Though the use of psychedelics as a form of treatment was not formally adopted by AA, it cannot be understated the impact that Wilson’s journey had. It has led to further research on the matter, as well as tremendous discussion from those in the program as well as research professionals from around the world.

Though we may still be some time away from seeing the implementation of psychedelics in treating alcoholism, there is little doubt of the importance that Bill W. had on the future of AA. For that reason and more, he will continue to be a revered figure in the recovery community.

The founder of AA, Bill Wilson.

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