A recently-conducted study strongly suggests that psilocybin is the key to overcoming alcohol addiction. Studies that looked at the correlation between psychedelics and alcoholism recovery were very popular during the 1950s and 60s, but observational technology back then did not allow for many conclusive results. Now that the field of study has been revived using 21st century methods, though, we may just be seeing the dawn of a new age in the use of psychedelics to treat alcoholism.
At the beginning of the study, 95 New Yorkers suffering from alcoholism were chosen and went into psychotherapy for four weeks. After those four weeks were over, all of the participants were given a single dosage of a pill. Most of the pills contained a standard dose of psilocybin, while a few randomly-chosen participants received diphenhydramine, an antihistamine, as a placebo.
All of the participants continued going to psychotherapy sessions focusing on their alcoholism after the first dose. After another four weeks, a second dose of the same pill was given to each participant. They then went to therapy for another four weeks before the study concluded. This method, where psychedelic substances are supplemented by psychotherapy, is called “psycholytic therapy.”
Results were collected mainly via surveys given during the participants’ psychotherapy sessions. The sessions also acted as a “safe place” where patients could discuss the thoughts and experiences they had recently been “unlocking,” often thanks to the psilocybin they had been given. Said thoughts and experiences were often related to their alcohol abuse issues and frequently helped them move away from their dependence. The participants who had been given the placebo (diphenhydramine) did not have as many revelations to share.
Subjects who had been given psilocybin experienced a lot of very promising effects compared to the ones who received the placebo. The most significant areas in which the psilocybin recipients outpaced the placebo recipients included:
- Number of heavy drinking days. The placebo group basically stopped lowering their percentage of heavy drinking days after the first round of psychotherapy sessions ended and the placebos began at 4 weeks. The psilocybin group, on the other hand, continued to lower their percentage of heavy drinking days by another 50% even after the first round of psychotherapy ended. One could interpret this result as suggesting that psilocybin treatment is as effective as professional therapy when it comes to reducing alcohol dependence. [INSERT HEAVY DRINKING DAYS COMPARISON CHART FROM 14:11] This is perhaps the most important metric, because it directly addresses the problem.
- A better mood in the long term. It’s well known that psilocybin causes users to acquire a more compassionate outlook on life and a generally better mood for days or even weeks after being administered, and this study also reflected those results.
- A reduction in alcohol craving. You often hear ex-alcoholics who quit through more traditional means (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) never actually stop craving alcohol, even years or decades after quitting. It’s possible that psilocybin-aided alcoholism treatment can do a better job of eliminating that craving altogether.
- More self-compassion. In the weeks after all the participants stopped drinking, the psilocybin group reported much higher levels of happiness with themselves. Interestingly, this self-compassionate feeling grew as the weeks went on. And, as nearly any ex-alcoholic can tell you, practicing self-love is one of the keys to maintaining a commitment to stop drinking.
- An increase in alcohol abstinence. Many of the participants that received psilocybin actually stopped drinking alcohol almost immediately after their first dose, four weeks into the study. The psychotherapy they received for those first four weeks did not cause an increase in abstinence, so the fact that the psilocybin did is an extremely significant result.
What can we take away from these results?
In case it’s not already clear, the psilocybin group experienced much more dramatic results than the placebo group, both in terms of progression away from alcohol dependence and in terms of general improvement in outlook on life.
What is especially exciting is the shortness of the time frame in which these results were obtained. More traditional alcohol recovery methods may have a similar effect over a much longer time, but the drastic results experienced by the psilocybin group during the study (and especially in the first eight weeks) suggest that psycholytic therapy may very well be a much quicker method of treating alcohol addiction.
Alcoholism is a huge problem in America, the country where the study was conducted, with over 20 million Americans suffering from alcohol addiction and over 88,000 people dying from alcohol-related incidents every year. Those kinds of statistics obviously indicate a tremendous market for alcohol treatment solutions, but all of those that are currently available are time-consuming and often prohibitively expensive. One could also say that they don’t really treat the root of the problem, the alcohol addiction itself, since many recovering alcoholics and ex-alcoholics report still craving alcohol and having to muster up tremendous willpower to keep from consuming it.
Using psychedelics for alcoholism appears to be a much more effective alternative to quitting alcohol. It is less time-consuming than “traditional” methods, it is relatively inexpensive, and it seems to work more quickly than the years or even decades it takes many people to recover from alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. The results of the study show that psychedelic-assisted alcoholism therapy has less side effects than the traditional type, especially in terms of mental hardships like lack of self-compassion or a generally depressed mood.
A few testimonies from ex-alcoholics who recovered with the help of psychedelics:
“It made alcohol irrelevant and uninteresting to me. I am tethered to my children and my loved ones in a way that just precludes the desire to be alone with alcohol.” – Mary Beth Orr via Associated Press
“It definitely affected my life, and I’d say it saved my life. My greatest expectations were to be able to manage my cravings. This surpassed that. It eliminated my cravings.” – Jon Kostas via STAT
“After you spend 20 years hating yourself and having deep depression and having bad urges and believing bad things to be true, I could never get away from those thoughts. But now I feel like me again. It has changed the way I look at myself and possibilities for the future.” – Alex Jones via The Columbian
The Future of Using Psychedelics to Treat Alcoholism
2022 is an exciting time for the field of psychedelics. The drugs recently edged their way into the mainstream consciousness thanks to a wave of interest in self-administered therapy for issues like alcohol use disorder during the COVID-19 lockdowns. In the past year, a range of studies looking at the effects of psychedelics on mental health disorders, substance abuse issues, and general emotional well-being have been conducted by large, globally-recognized organizations and yielded largely positive results. And now, psychedelics seem poised to follow the same route of general acceptance and decriminalization that cannabis has been traveling down for the past decade, especially because of their massive amount of apparent treatment uses.
Even the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, was a supporter of psychedelics (particularly LSD) to treat alcoholism. Some letters he wrote in support of the drug’s efficacy back in 1935 were recently uncovered, but it was also revealed that the idea was not incorporated into the program back then because other Alcoholics Anonymous members found it to be too controversial. Now that the public perception of psychedelics is changing, Wilson’s advice may very well be revisited in the future.
Oregon has already legalized psychedelics in small doses for supervised therapeutic use, a law that will go into effect at the start of 2023. Other U.S. states, including California and Colorado, are trying to do the same thing. The world’s first officially-sanctioned center for therapeutic psychedelics research opened earlier this year at Imperial College London. What we are seeing is the start of a global domino effect that will likely mean a much wider acceptance of psychedelics, at least in the therapeutic community, by the close of the decade.
There are lots of negative constraints surrounding psychedelics that have prevented them from entering the mainstream in the past. Things such as: Illegality. Psychedelics are still illegal in most places. Although the laws are generally not enforced as long as users are not too public about it, many people are understandably uncomfortable about trying them. Misconceptions about developing an addiction. Psychedelics are not habit-forming, a sentiment reflected by the FDA. Difficulty in obtaining them. As it is, most people have a lot of trouble buying psychedelics if they want them. In the future, obtaining small doses will likely be as easy as picking up any prescription medication. Concern about negative experiences. When taken in a setting that is not ideal for a psychedelic trip, the drugs can bring on negative reactions, usually mental but sometimes even physical. This is a very real risk when taking psychedelics without proper guidance or preparation, but a professional trained in psycholytic therapy could definitely mitigate that risk.
The medical establishment as a whole is beginning to warm towards psychedelics as legitimate therapeutic tools, though. The next few years will almost certainly give way to a wave of studies examining the use of psychedelics to treat alcohol and drug abuse. Before long, we’ll see the stigma surrounding psychedelics begin to fade.
Dustin Kemp · 12/29/2022