A regular at the Virtual Moderation Management meeting I hold each week sent me a really interesting article after one of the meetings called, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous’”. This very long, but extremely interesting article explores the history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and how it was created. What I found most interesting is that the article shines light on the possibility that the reason AA’s co-founder, Bill Wilson got sober had very little to do with the 12-steps he created and a whole lot more to do with the hallucinogenic he was given the day he decided to stop drinking.
If this is true…
Are hallucinogenics the real answer to the population’s growing problem with alcohol?
Why do they work? What about hallucinating would cause a person to make such a drastic positive change?
Is there a way to achieve these same results without the use of an illegal substance?
First let’s talk about Bill Wilson. As I mentioned before, Bill co-founded AA with the help of the evangelical Oxford Group and if you have ever heard someone say, “I’m friends with Bill” they are saying they are in the program. Bill and the Oxford Group created the 12-steps that has become the go to/most popular way to treat addiction. It is difficult to measure the success rate of AA because members are meant to remain anonymous but it is estimated only about 8% of people remain sober after completing the steps. This is why I was surprised to learn that Bill himself didn’t achieve sobriety using the method. I was even more surprised to learn that hallucinogens should be given credit for getting him sober. According to the article, Bill wandered into a hospital, very drunk and very delusional and was given the drug, belladonna also referred to as Deadly Nightshade. Belladonna is a powerful hallucinogen and during this time, doctors had been conducting studies to measure its effectiveness to treat alcohol addiction. After taking the drug, Bill said that he called out to god for help, saw a white light, experienced serenity for the first time, and then quit drinking for good. It wasn’t until a year after Bill stopped drinking that the 12-steps were created.
Pretty crazy right?
Is it just me or does it seem that like Bill’s belladonna trip was what got him sober and not the 12-steps that were created afterward? I am guessing that Bill was elated by his newly found sobriety and sense of serenity. It seems he found his experience to be so helpful that he wanted to share it with the world. If this is the case, how very awesome of him? The problem is, it was his trip and what he personally needed to get sober. This is how hallucinogens typically work, they give the user what they need not what the world needs. So, while Bill’s Belladonna experience and the things he shared were able to help some, the experience couldn’t help everyone, just about 8% of people needing help with their addictions.
I first learned of hallucinogens ability to help those suffering from mental health disorders when I was studying to be a therapist in grad school. The idea sort of amazed me and I wanted to know why they were so helpful. I read a lot and did a few of my own studies (wink.. wink..) I came to believe that it isn’t the strange visions or auditory hallucinations that have the ability to change a person’s psyche. If used correctly, (not in a party) hallucinogens give the user a chance to fully experience reality and have deep conversations with themselves. This opportunity makes way for realizations and epiphanies that the user would not have otherwise have had.
I LOVE psychology and am deeply invested in helping people find a healthy relationship with alcohol so all of this really intrigues me however… I highly doubt that many self-respecting adults with children and good jobs would consider taking acid or mushrooms on the weekend. Even if they did, hallucinogens can be dangerous and if the dosage or setting is wrong, bad things can absolutely happen. This is why it’s a good thing people can have the same experiences through meditation and don’t have to take any kind of crazy drug at all.
A quick google search will show you evidence that after years of practicing for many hours each day hallucinations can be experienced through meditation. Still, hallucinations are not the goal and I don’t believe having them is what causes a person to change. So, unless your goal is to see light trails and hear voices of people who aren’t there than you need not practice this much. As with anything, the more you practice, the better you get. However, even as a beginner meditator, deep conversations, realizations, epiphanies and the full experience of reality is possible.
If this is true, it seems that meditation could be the solution to addiction not hallucinogens or the 12-steps. In fact, mediation is part of the AA but it isn’t till the 11th step that it’s introduced and unfortunately many people don’t get that far. Wanna know something else crazy? In doing some research I found evidence that taking acid almost became the 13th step, but this is a blog post for another time!