Psychedelic Therapy for Alcoholism

Find out how psychedelic therapy works with alcohol rehab with this guide, including related medications, approaches, effects and more.

What are Psychedelics?

A psychedelic is a drug that alters a persons cognition and perception. They are often referred to as hallucinogens. They make up a large group of synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals of various structures. When a person ingests a psychedelic, they often feel like they are in an altered state of reality, a difference in consciousness, or as if they are in a trance-like state or dream. It is believed that a psychedelic drug alters a person’s ability to filter perceptions, thoughts and emotions from reaching the conscious mind. This means that a person will feel and see things that are not real but are made in the subconscious mind.

Psychedelic Medication for Therapy

Psychedelic therapy is the use of psychedelic drugs as part of therapeutic treatment for alcoholism. This alternative therapy is thought to enable an individual and clinician to explore the the psyche and help discover the root cause of addictive or harmful behaviors. It is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy. It is believed to enable a person to explore and deal with unpleasant memories or feelings in a non-confrontational way that minimises fears and anxieties.

Psychedelic Addiction Therapy

Psychedelic therapy to treat alcoholism has been successful in helping some clients. Psychedelic therapy uses the effects of a consciousness-changing drug to assist the healing aspect of psychotherapy treatment. Because this treatment is not a symptom-driven approach, the outcomes are long lasting. The goal of psychedelic therapy is to help a person live a better life without the problems alcohol has created. The therapy delves into the reasons for a person abusing alcohol and tries to resolve these and improve a persons outlook on life. It also works to build better relationships with friends, family and the rest of the world, by showing a person their importance in the world.

Psychedelic Drugs Used in Therapy

Psychedelics are a large and varied group of drugs that can be synthetically made or found to be naturally occurring. The most common natural psychedelics are mescaline which is found in the peyote cactus and psilocybin which is found in over 100 types of mushrooms. Lysergic acid dethylamide, or LSD, Diethyltryptamine better known as DET, and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA (but best known as ecstasy) are the most common synthetically made psychedelic drugs. These drugs have been used under clinical supervision for treating alcoholism and other disorders.

Studies have shown that psychedelics can be beneficial to individuals who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mood disorders when taken under supervision. The benefit of this type of treatment is that small doses in combination with psychotherapy can have a significant impact on therapy length. This means better outcomes, more quickly.

How Psychedelic Therapy Works

Psychedelic therapy usually is conducted in a clinic with a psychotherapist. A client is given the psychedelic to ingest and the session begins with questioning about his or her problems, dreams, feelings. As the effects of the psychedelic begin to be felt, the discussion will focus more on what the client’s perception is, on spirituality, fears, love and the universe. Clients are asked to focus on symbols in their visions, and often photographs, images and music are used throughout the therapy. Many clients reach a state called a peak experience which is characterised by intense feelings of unity with the world, people, and nature. After a session, clients report awareness of the ego and personal defences such as denial or displacement that they can then catch themselves in the act of using them and alter their own behaviours.

Effects of Psychedelics

Psychedelic drugs activate 5-HT2A receptors in the brain, specifically the neurotransmitter serotonin. This alters signalling in the brain transmitters glutamate and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine effect the brain mood centre and psychedelic drugs modify these connections and alleviate negative thoughts and mood disorders.

Controversy Around Psychedelic Addiction Therapy

Treatment of alcoholism with the use of psychedelic drugs began in the 1960’s at a facility called Spring Grove in the United States. The study which used LSD to treat those suffering was very successful and supported by the FDA at the time. However, there were some questions raised to the methods used in the studies and how scientific they were. LSD also became a very popular recreational drug in the 1960’s and subsequently the USA Government criminalised it by the end of 1970.

Future of Psychedelic Therapy

Since the 1990’s there has been some renewed interest in the therapeutic value of psychedelics and some further research into the scientific properties is being conducted around the world. There has been less focus on LSD and more research into the newer psychedelics, Ketamine and MDMA which has been found to have benefits when used in conjunction with other therapies, for those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, amongst others.