Feb. 9, 2022 – All this because, after that August day, Wilson believed other recovering alcoholics could benefit from taking LSD as a way to facilitate the “spiritual experience” he believed was necessary to successful recovery. We know this from Wilson, whose intractable depression was alleviated after taking LSD; his beliefs in the power of the drug are documented in his many writings.  “I am certain that the LSD experience has helped me very much,” Wilson writes in a 1957 letter. “I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depression…Yet Wilson’s sincere belief that people in an abstinence-only addiction recovery program could benefit from using a psychedelic drug was a contradiction that A.A. leadership did not want to entertain. The backlash eventually led to Wilson reluctantly agreeing to stop using the drug. It also may be why so few people know about Wilson’s relationship with LSD. More broadly, the scandal reflects a tension in A.A., which touts abstinence above all else and the use of “mind-altering drugs” as antithetical to recovery.

I know because I spent over a decade going to 12-step meetings.

My last drink was on January 24, 2008. Like the millions of others who followed in Wilson’s footsteps, much of my early sobriety was supported by 12-step meetings. My life improved immeasurably.

But sobriety was not enough to fix my depression. And while seeking “outside help” is more widely accepted since Wilson’s day, when help comes in the form of a mind-altering substance — especially a psychedelic drug — it’s a bridge too far for many in the Program to accept.  More than 40 years ago, Wilson learned what many in the scientific community are only beginning to understand: Mind-altering drugs are not always antithetical to sobriety. Instead, psychedelics may be a means to achieve and maintain recovery from addiction.

Wilson’s personal experience foreshadowed compelling research today. Stephen Ross, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at Bellevue Hospital and New York University, is part of a cohort of researchers examining the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, including psilocybin and LSD. Early in his career, he was fascinated by studies of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism done in the mid-twentieth century.


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