The majority of the alcoholics who attend AA meetings associate every inebriating substance with their alcoholism, and the fear that their effects may trigger a relapse.
What most of them do not realize is that the program’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, credited the psychedelic drug LSD for alleviating his alcoholism, and believed the drug could be used to treat others as well.
This interesting trip begins just about two decades after Wilson established Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, according Don Lattin, author of the new book Distilled Spirits. It was then that Wilson began preaching his belief in the use of LSD to assist “cynical alcoholics” in discovering some level of “spiritual awakening” that would allow them further continue down the road to sobriety.
In a series of letters and other documents, Wilson explains that he too was skeptical that LSD, which was first synthesized in 1938, could alone be the cure for those struggling with alcohol addiction. Yet, he later found that the psychedelic substance could give medical experts insight into the horror that many alcoholics often face, as well as be used to terrify the common drunkard into never picking up a bottle again.
Wilson first began experimenting with LSD at the Los Angeles Veterans Administration back in 1956. But after taking his first hit of acid, he realized that it was not the aspect of terror that could help remedy alcoholism, but rather the insight one could attain from stepping into a world of simulated insanity.
Wilson believed that using LSD could help the alcoholic discover “a power greater than ourselves” that, in turn, “could restore us to sanity.” However, he was adamant that using acid to combat the demons of alcoholism was not something that one could expect from a single dose. “I don’t believe [LSD] has any miraculous property of transforming spiritually and emotionally sick people into healthy ones overnight. It can set up a shining goal on the positive side, after all it is only a temporary ego-reducer.”
Interestingly, there is documentation that indicates Wilson was involved with many supervised LSD trials, including some with psychologist Betty Eisner and ‘Brave New World’ author, Aldous Huxley, which led him to believe that “the vision and insights given by LSD could create a large incentive — at least in a considerable number of people.”
“I am certain that the LSD experiment has helped me very much,” wrote Wilson in a letter to science writer, Gerald Heard in 1957. “I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depressions.”
Although Wilson’s drug experimentation was met with some controversy by followers of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is evidence to suggest that he was on the verge of incorporating LSD in the program to help provide the “too far gone” with spiritual understanding. Yet, despite being crucial to the existence of the program, Wilson was often chastised for his involvement in LSD research in papers published by chapters of AA. This eventually led to him stepping down as one of the national principals for the organization, so that he could pursue his research without resistance.
Wilson always maintained that LSD “helped him eliminate many barriers erected by the self, or ego, that stand in the way of one’s direct experiences of the cosmos and of god”. Through years of research he concluded “that he might have found something that could make a big difference to the lives of many who still suffered.”
Unfortunately, LSD made its way into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, simply because others in the hierarchy did not support it as a viable treatment. In fact, a document published in 1984 by AA World Services in New York explained the reason the program does not endorse the use of LSD. “As word of Bill’s activities reached the fellowship there were inevitable repercussions. Most AAs were violently opposed to his experimenting with a mind-altering substance. LSD was then totally unfamiliar, poorly researched, and entirely experimental — and Bill was taking it.”