The world of psychedelics is consistently shown to have a wide range of physical and mental benefits. It seems that slowly and finally, the medical world is starting to accept drugs like psilocybin and LSD as real drug treatment alternatives.
In recent new studies, more research has been published that proves that the well-known substance in magic mushrooms can be used to treat people with alcohol addiction .
We'll find out why this method worked, what the study explicitly says, and other information regarding the links between psychedelics and alcoholism.
What is alcohol addiction?
Addictions come in many forms, and it is often difficult to differentiate between them and habits. For example, is brushing your teeth an addiction? Well, habits are generally less harmful than addictions.
The truth is that addictions are habits created in hopes of obtaining a certain reward . This reward is usually the feeling that the specific substance can give you.
In the case of heroin, it's this feeling of euphoria. In the case of alcohol, it could be that feeling of dissociated pleasure and anti-anxiety. An addiction is something that we usually don't have much power over and which, over time, has a negative impact on ourselves and perhaps those around us.
However, habits are generally less harmful. a study from the University of Alvernia in Pennsylvania wrote:
" Probably the most important distinction between habit and addiction is how choice, to some extent, is still possible with habit-forming behaviors. When it comes to addiction, people generally have a harder time making decisions because of their addiction to a substance or behavior .”
Alcoholism is one of the most common addictions, this is partly because alcohol is so easy to access and is an integral part of most societies. In fact, in France, 5.3% of men and 1.5% of women are addicted to alcohol. This represents around 2 million people in France with alcohol problems. As a result, around 49,000 people die each year from this cause, which is the second leading preventable cause of death in France.
What is alcoholism and how does it manifest?
Well, an alcohol addiction usually means that a person places drinking above most other aspects of their life, including work and family. This can sometimes harm these other parts of their life.
Other signs of alcoholism include:
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Inability to stop drinking
- Increased tolerance
Sometimes it is not always easy to know when you are an alcoholic. Drinks Aware wrote
a useful list of 4 questions to ask yourself :
- Do I often feel the need for a drink?
- Am I in trouble because of my drinking?
- Have other people warned me about my drinking?
- Do I think my drinking is causing me problems?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” it may be time to seek professional advice.
How Alcoholism is Treated
An addiction to anything is considered a habit, and many believe that habits can be changed once you discover the cause of this pattern in the brain.
Usually this is based on the “pleasure principle”. All addictions , including sex, gambling, drugs and alcohol, cause a surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (the area of the brain that activates the feeling of well-being). It feels like a reward for the body and mind when these addictions are satisfied. Once the brain realizes that a specific activity can cause that same dopamine boost, it desires it again and again.
The “ help guide ” wrote:
"The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they come from a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal... Addictive drugs provide a shortcut to brain's reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus establishes memories of this quick feeling of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli."
For years, alcoholism has been treated with cognitive behavioral therapy , which can help identify negative thought patterns that typically lead to drinking. This can obviously take some time to work.
Another method is a complete detox , removing all access to alcohol, which usually requires help from family and friends. Another common treatment is self-help groups , such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which allow addicts to not feel so alone in their struggle toward sobriety.
However, in recent times, people have begun to turn to psilocybin as a possible method of schema change to stop alcohol addiction.
Psilocybin and addiction
Psilocybin is the substance in magic mushrooms that is responsible for the psychoactive effects . The substance can cause hallucinations and psychotropic perceptions.
The drug acts on neural pathways in the brain that include the neurotransmitter that creates serotonin. It is an influx of serotonin which is believed to be the cause of many of these hallucinogenic effects .
However, research on these drugs has been limited due to the fact that few medical professionals have used the substance until now.
“ Science Alert ” writes:
"Because they are classified as Schedule 1 - meaning they have no 'accepted medical use' and are illegal - it has been quite difficult for scientists to understand exactly what 'they can and cannot do.'
However, a recent study - conducted by scientists at New York University and published in JAMA Psychiatry - gave a group of men and women suffering from alcohol addiction treatment with psilocybin. Those selected were people who drank around four or five drinks (or more) per day . They found that those who underwent psilocybin therapy significantly reduced their alcohol consumption – 83% to be precise. Those who took an antihistamine placebo reduced their alcohol consumption by only 51%. Stat News writes:
"Eight months after the first dose of psilocybin, almost half (48%) of those who had psilocybin had stopped drinking completely, twice as many as 24% in the placebo group. The study was double-blind and relatively large for a psychedelic study, with 93 participants”
The study was hailed as a giant step toward finding effective treatment for people suffering from alcoholism. Each participant received 12 psychotherapy sessions over 12 weeks, with 2-day sessions using the specific medication.
It was quite obvious to the participants whether they had received a placebo or not, as psilocybin has quite obvious and intense effects.
John Costas , a 32-year-old from New York, received the real treatment and said :
“It definitely affected my life and I would say it saved my life… My biggest expectations were to be able to control my desires. It overcame that. It took away my desire”
Although the results were impressive, it was unclear how the substance actually affected the brains of those involved. Additionally, overall, participants did not have as much alcohol dependence as is common in these types of studies.
What this research does, however, is shed light on the potential of psychedelic addiction therapy. We hope there will be many more to come. However, this is not the first time such research has been conducted.
LSD and alcoholism
In the 1950s and 1960s, professionals began testing the effects of LSD on alcoholism, and the results were equally promising. The problem then was that none of the studies had enough participants to be considered useful.
However, if you combine six of the trials performed during this period, the statistics are actually quite useful.
The studies included 536 participants, with 59% of those taking LSD reporting lower levels of alcohol abuse. In comparison, only 38% of those who received a placebo reported the same. These benefits are said to last for approximately 3 to 6 months.
"Psychedelics were popularized by psychiatrists in the 1950s as having a number of medical uses...before political pressure in the United States and elsewhere largely put an end to the work...Alcoholism was considered as one of the most promising clinical applications of LSD... Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson is said to have defended the benefits of LSD in the book Pass It On: The Bill Wilson Story and How AA's Message Reached the World ”
Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States, is said to have used LSD to end his alcohol addiction. In response, he wanted others to do the same, as he was amazed at the effect the substance had on him.
However, Wilson eventually had to stop advertising the drug because it endangered AA's reputation due to the government's views on recreational drugs.
Classification of drugs according to their dangerousness:
It is clear that we are entering an important moment in medical research and psychedelic drugs. For the first time since the 1950s, the medical profession is once again realizing the benefits these types of substances can have on people suffering from addiction. The hope is that studies like this continue to occur and that eventually, psilocybin and LSD therapy can be easily accessible to those who need it.
All information in this article is based on sources and references, and all opinions expressed are my own. I do not give advice to anyone and although I am happy to discuss topics, if anyone has any further questions or concerns they should seek advice from a competent specialist. People who suffer from psychiatric, neurological, or cardiovascular disorders or who use psychiatric medications should avoid psychedelic and other drugs completely.