Summary and Analysis

Bottles of alcohol.

Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

This is a refrain that comes up time and time again: Let’s use more drugs to treat addiction to drugs or alcohol. Let’s add something with known toxic effects to the delicate brains of humans and see what happens. 

The concept of using psychedelics like LSD to treat alcoholism or a medley of other human ills is hitting the media once again. In case you’ve forgotten, LSD can create unpredictable and damaging side effects. These are the undesirable effects noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorientation and loss of coordination
  • Paranoia
  • Mood disturbances

Some of these effects persist long after the drug’s immediate effects have worn off or they may recur unexpectedly as long as a year later:

  • Hallucinations
  • Other visual disturbances such as seeing halos or trails attached to moving objects

An early study compiled reports on adverse effects of LSD and provided this inventory:

“142 cases of prolonged psychotic reactions, 63 non-psychotic reactions, 11 spontaneous recurrences, 19 attempted suicides, four attempted homicides, 11 successful suicides and one successful homicide.”

Is There Potential Benefit Here?

Can LSD possibly be used to treat alcoholism? I’m not enough of a scientist to know for sure. But I’ve been around addiction recovery enough to know this: Recovery must take place in the real world. Stable recovery involves helping a person resolve the real-life situations that make them uncomfortable enough to drink. Situations like feeling socially uncomfortable, unhappiness in school, work or marriage, failure to achieve goals, failed relationships, family strife, business setbacks and similar problems. 

Taking psychedelic drugs can change a person’s attitude about life. But in what direction? In addition to its other liabilities, LSD is notoriously unpredictable. But, in any case, drug-induced change is not actually rehabilitation. 

True rehabilitation involves addressing and resolving life’s difficulties and improving one’s life skills so that the individual no longer feels the need to escape into a bottle. It also often involves remedying the harm one has done to others or oneself while an alcoholic. It may require rising up out of the guilt suffered as a result of years or decades of addiction and rebuilding one’s self-respect. A drug that can cause psychosis as a side effect does not seem like a shortcut to true rehabilitation. 

Excerpted from Nature

The powerful hallucinogen LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) has potential as a treatment for alcoholism, according to a retrospective analysis of studies published in the late 1960s and early 1970s…

Psychedelics were promoted by psychiatrists in the 1950s as having a range of medical uses — to treat conditions such as schizophrenia, for example — before political pressures in the United States and elsewhere largely ended the work.