A landmark study on the use of LSD to treat alcohol use disorder occurred between 1957 and 19581. This two-part investigation first treated 24 alcoholics with co-occurring mental health disorders, and then an additional 16 subjects with similar conditions, many of whom had tried Alcoholics Anonymous and failed to remain abstinent. The mental health disorders included character disorders, psychopathy, borderline personality disorder, and actual psychosis.
One of the notable characteristics of this study that likely influenced the field of modern day psychedelic-assisted therapy was the environment in which the research took place. While the first study was done in a clinical location such as a psychiatric ward or an institutional setting, the second part of the study took place in a relaxed environment with music, visually stimulating art or symbolic objects, and with therapists who provided an emotionally supportive environment, many of whom had also had an LSD experience.
The therapists involved in this study encouraged the patients towards acceptance and responsibility for their alcoholism without moral judgment. Outcome measures were defined as: “much improved” (abstinence), “improved” (reduced alcohol consumption), or “unchanged.” Interestingly, and possibly from the change in set and setting, only 12 of the original 24 patients who received treatment in an institutional environment had outcomes of “much improved” or “improved.” On the other hand, 15 of the 16 additional patients who received treatment in the revised and more relaxed set and setting showed outcomes of “much improved” or “improved.”
Another study that evaluated the impact of LSD treatment and recovery from alcoholism found that the use of LSD in therapy provided immediate disruption in the pattern of alcoholic drinking, but that over time— within 12 months—without continued support, most participants returned to drinking2. The researchers acknowledged that, based on their study design and research findings, the failure of long-term success rate was most likely due to 1) lack of participant preparation before treatment, and 2) lack of follow-up therapeutic treatment after the LSD treatment. These findings are congruent with other research that has seen successful remission in cases where ongoing therapeutic treatment or other interventions were employed.
More recently, a 2018 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) stated that alcohol-related emergency room visits between 2006 and 2014 increased 47 percent overall, with visits related to acute alcohol consumption increasing by 40 percent and those related to chronic alcohol consumption increasing by 58 percent. The data showed that increases were higher among females, and highest across both sexes in the 45- to 54-year-old range, while the rates of admissions for 12- to 17-year-olds decreased over that period. During that same time, the medical costs of such visits increased from $4.1 billion to $15.3 billion3. Researchers note that alcohol abuse and alcoholism is still a serious problem, and is often linked to mental health disorders as a cause, an outcome, or a co-occurring factor.