There have been numerous medicinal treatments and prescriptions for alcoholism throughout history. These vary from the old days of sanitariums and asylums to more modern solutions such as antabuse, naltrexone, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications. The most common modern prescription for alcoholism has been through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and rehabilitation facilities that incorporate these spiritual principles such as at Footprints Behavioral Health.
Many rehab facilities use a combination of the spiritual principles set forth in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous with a combination of medications that can aid in the physical aspect of withdrawal, depression, and anxiety. For example, benzodiazepines are often used on a short-term basis for patients who are going through alcohol withdrawal symptoms, as it can be extremely dangerous to withdrawal naturally from alcohol.
Simultaneously, there is a brand new, first of its kind experiment to treat alcoholism that is beginning in the UK, according to a recent article in the Guardian. This includes using the drug MDMA, which is both a stimulant and a psychedelic. As radical as this seems, the concept itself is not new. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, suggested using LSD as a potential treatment for alcoholism when the drug first came out on the market. MDMA is also the active ingredient in ecstasy. The study is set to begin in two months.
Ben Sassa, who is a clinical psychiatrist in charge of this study, explained that, “We know that MDMA works really well in helping people who have suffered trauma and works to build empathy. Many of my patients who are alcoholics have suffered trauma in their past and this plays a role in their addiction.”
The study will work as follows: twenty patients will be given the drug during two treatment sessions, which will be heavily supervised. These drinkers are chronic alcoholics who typically consume up to 5 bottles of wine per day. They are also patients who have tried other methods of treatment in the past and have failed on numerous occasions.
While given the drug, they will be talked to by a therapist, and asked to lie down for a period of time in quiet meditation with an eye mask over their face. Sessa explained that the drug is only playing a limited role in the entire treatment process. He explains, “Its using drugs to enhance the relationship between the therapist and the patient, and it allows us to dig down and get to the heart of the problems that drive long-term mental illness.”
Using a psychedelic can often provide spiritual experiences for users. Some who have used mushrooms or acid have claimed to have felt a connection to a higher power, or a connection to the spiritual nature of the universe. While this connection may be manufactured because of what the drug itself is doing, the spiritual experience is in fact real to the user. Some have reported life-changing experiences as a result of using psychedelics, including a different outlook on life that was unable to be seen before. Perhaps this is why Bill Wilson advocated for LSD in alcohol treatments. For those who struggled to naturally have a spiritual awakening as a result of the 12 steps, LSD, in his mind, may have been the tool to get the alcoholic over the “hump” so to speak.
There is no doubt that the majority of medical doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and addiction specialists will dislike the idea of this study, and probably already disapprove of it. The addiction community has frowned upon treating one addiction with another mind-altering substance for sometime, unless it is on a short-term basis or is used for serious mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. However, the use of psychedelic and stimulant types of drugs goes beyond even the latter. It is taking a very controversial drug, which has been (rightly) demonized by lawmakers, addiction specialists, and physicians, and telling the world that it may be a treatment for addiction to alcohol.
Ed Day, a senior clinical lecturer at the National Addiction Center in King’s College of London believes that any positive correlations between using MDMA and alcohol addiction will be due to treating an underlying mental condition, not the disease of addiction itself. In other words, he states that, “It is likely that the benefits would come in treating problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression, rather than drug problems per se. I wouldn’t want this issue to distract from the real problems facing drug and alcohol treatment services in England at the moment.”
There are problems with drug and alcohol treatment programs throughout the world. Even Alcoholics Anonymous, which is known for its higher success rate, still has more who relapse than stay clean. In other words, we just don’t quite understand addiction yet, and perhaps we never will. Even addicts themselves do not often understand their compulsive need to use a substance, regardless of how negatively it affects their lives. What we do know is that treatments such as the 12 steps and recovery programs at places like Footprints tend to provide the best results.
It will be interesting to see the results of this study, but for now, the Footprints team will continue to advocate for a program of spiritual recovery through utilizing the 12 steps of AA, and natural solutions such as exercise, meditation, group therapy, yoga, and acupuncture.
Do you suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Are you struggling to stay sober regardless of how many times you have tried on your own? If so, contact Linda Rose at Footprints Behavioral Health today. Call 949-556-4723 to start your roadmap towards recovery.