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Peer Support, 12-steps and Psychedelics

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is known worldwide for its effective approach in helping individuals recover from alcohol addiction. Founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson, AA has helped millions of people around the world overcome alcohol dependence.

Peer support groups, like AA, offer a supportive and safe environment where members can share experiences, find guidance, and receive emotional support from peers who have faced similar challenges. Peer support groups are available for all kinds of people who have shared experiences and now extend far beyond just substance use disorders. It has been described as the more far-reaching social movement of our time.

While the organization primarily relies on spiritual principles and mutual support, the early psychedelic experiences of its founder are particularly interesting. Traditional understanding of peer support has focused on abstinence-based recovery. Despite this, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of psychedelics in addiction treatment, which can be integrated into peer support models to achieve breakthrough results.

The 12-step program, which includes admitting powerlessness over alcohol, seeking guidance from a higher power, making amends, and assisting others in their recovery journey, has become a cornerstone of addiction treatment worldwide. 

These steps have since been adapted and adopted by numerous other recovery programs, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), and Gamblers Anonymous (GA). Studies have highlighted the effectiveness of AA in supporting long-term sobriety and reducing relapse rates.

The Influence of Psychedelics on Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had a profound experience with psychedelic substances that shaped his understanding of addiction and spirituality. During the 1950s and 1960s, Bill Wilson participated in studies conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Humphry Osmond and others, which explored the potential therapeutic effects of LSD in the treatment of alcoholism. 

These psychedelic experiences had a transformative effect on Wilson, leading him to suggest that the use of psychedelics could help individuals gain insights into their addictive patterns, confront deep-seated emotional issues, and achieve a heightened spiritual awareness.

While Wilson’s experiences with psychedelics were influential, his attempts to integrate them into Alcoholics Anonymous were met with resistance from the organization themselves. Ultimately, AA adopted a policy of abstinence from all substances, including psychedelics which are considered non-addictive, in order to maintain a focus on sobriety through peer support with spiritual principles.

An Emerging Paradigm: Psychedelic-Assisted Peer Support

There has been a surge of interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in addiction treatment. Studies exploring the use of substances such as psilocybin and MDMA have shown promising results in helping individuals overcome addiction and symptoms of mental illness, specifically major depressive disorder and PTSD.

Psychedelic experiences can help individuals gain a fresh perspective on their lives, enhance self-awareness, foster emotional healing, and reduce addictive cravings. These experiences often help facilitate a sense of connectedness, empathy, and meaning, which can be instrumental in promoting lasting recovery. Studies conducted with psilocybin-assisted therapy for smoking cessationalcohol use disorder, and opioid addiction have reported significant reductions in substance use. 

Similarly, MDMA-assisted therapy has shown promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and associated substance use disorders. These substances are administered in controlled settings with the guidance of trained professionals, allowing individuals to delve into their subconscious and confront underlying issues that contribute to addiction.

Integration of psychedelics into peer support models offers a new dimension to addiction treatment. It acknowledges that profound healing experiences can occur through different states of consciousness, expanding traditional understanding of addiction recovery.