Psychedelics Influenced Alcoholics Anonymous

In the book Distilled Spirits, author Dan Lattin wrote, “There’s a good chance that psychoactive plants played a role in what came to be known as the founding vision of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA),” it is a book about Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson.

It is very likely Bill Wilson invented Alcoholic Anonymous because of the psychedelic experience he had in 1934, in a hospital in New York City, to treat his alcoholism. Under the influence of the psychedelic belladonna and henbane, Bill Wilson had a spiritual awakening that helped him get over his alcoholism. It helped influenced him in 1939 to create the 12-step AA program.

Bill Wilson would continue his self-research into entheogens when he took LSD in the 1950s under the supervision of Sidney Cohen, a UCLA researcher and Better Eisner, a psychologist. Bill Wilson thought that LSD could help other alcoholics get cured by having spiritual experiences to help them stay on the road to recovery. The LSD experiments would cure Bill Wilsons Depression.

Shortly after his LSD experience, Bill Wilson wrote a letter to Carl Jung. Part of the letter noted, “about his experiments using LSD to help members of Alcoholics Anonymous have the spiritual awakening that is central to the twelve-step program of recovery.”  Although LSD was legal during the 1950s, the organization members of Alcoholics Anonymous had issues with Bill Wilson’s LSD experiments, even though they were hugely successful.

A published document by AA World Services identified their thought of Bill Wilson’s use of mind-expanding drugs: “As word of Bill’s activities reached the fellowship, there were inevitable repercussions. Most people in AA were aggressively opposed to his experimenting with mind-altering substances. LSD was poorly researched, entirely experimental, and very unfamiliar – and Bill Wilson was taking it.”

Bill Wilson would ultimately step down from the board of AA because he was researching psychedelics, not allowing a 12-step program and psychedelics to co-exist. Also referred to as fellowships, 12-step programs include the renowned Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and there are many other similar groups for various issues.

As of 2020, there is an estimated to be over two million active members and 129,790 groups found throughout the world. In addition, 12-step programs are free and available everywhere, including online now. Although they are not professionally run, a 2020 Cochrane review of Alcoholics Anonymous found that it may be even more beneficial than other well-known treatments, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which many rehab centers utilize now.

Alcoholics Anonymous also had a mix of reviews on psychiatric medications. For someone who may have a condition like Schizophrenia, people at meetings would want them on their psych meds. Psychedelics are making a strong scientific comeback for many mental health conditions, from helping people with autism effectively communicate with others to curing depression and anxiety. In addition, doctors and other therapists are now figuring out how to integrate psychedelics into existing therapies.

The non-profit Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is now setting up a new style of rehab clinics over the next decade. As psychedelics become legal, they will be the leaders in creating the new rehabs that intergrade psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

AA, NA, CA, and other 12-step groups need to redefine their term for what it means to abstain from all drugs and alcohol. Because if you have ever been to one of their meetings, it is a group of people all drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and vapes; as far as I know, caffeine and nicotine are two very addictive stimulant drugs.


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