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Psychedelics and Addiction: A Magic Bullet?

Are psychedelics a magic bullet for addiction? Join us in separating fact from fiction when it comes to using psychedelics to heal addiction
By Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
September 10, 2020(Updated: October 13, 2020)

The use of psychedelic medicine to treat addiction is an exciting and promising aspect of current research. Despite the hype, are psychedelics really a magic bullet for addiction? Join Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC to separate fact from fiction when it comes to using psychedelics to heal addiction.

There is perhaps no topic more sensitive in the psychedelic medicine community than the question of what medicine work means for people who identify as addicts or individuals in recovery from substance abuse.

Because many models for healing from substance abuse and addiction rely on the importance of abstinence, often from all substance use, the question of whether psychedelics fit into an addiction recovery model is an important one. Can psychedelics be a part of healthy recovery, or is it best to avoid mind-altering plants and chemicals altogether?  

The abstinence model, emphasized by the 12-Step Model and most mainstream treatment models, asserts that mind-altering substances cannot be consumed safely by individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Much like an allergy, it is believed that the body and mind are particularly vulnerable to substances, often to the point of powerlessness to cravings and relapse behaviors. Because of this, the abstinence model focuses on building a lifestyle of complete sobriety.

An alternative approach, the harm-reduction model, has emerged as another recovery option. According to this model, recovery from damaging substance abuse requires learning skills and strategies to reduce negative consequences associated with drug use. While abstinence can be an element of harm reduction, so, too, can the conscious use of psychedelic medicines in the context of a safe and structured environment. The goal becomes less about abstinence and more about risk management.

When managed and approached skillfully and with support, psychedelic medicine work can result in powerful transformation for addicts and individuals in recovery.

As a Licensed Addiction Counselor and someone who has worked extensively in the field of addiction counseling for over ten years, I first want to debunk a couple myths.

First, there is absolutely such thing as compulsive and unhealthy psychedelic substance use. While many argue that psychedelics are not subject to dependence or addiction like alcohol, narcotics, and other drugs of abuse, it is very clear that psychedelic substances can do harm. Psychedelic work is not risk-free and does not always provide healing experiences. Put straight, it’s not for everyone and is not a magic bullet.

On the other hand, psychedelic medicine work is not a death wish nor a failure of recovery. I have witnessed countless individuals in recovery utilize psychedelic medicines to do healing work. When managed and approached skillfully and with support, psychedelic medicine work can result in powerful transformation for addicts and individuals in recovery.

This topic is nuanced and is not black and white. Psychedelics can be profoundly healing for individuals in recovery, but can also catalyze relapse behaviors that lead back to a lifestyle of addictive use. We cannot glorify psychedelics as a magic bullet, but we also cannot deny their benefit.

The disease of addiction is cunning and often moves in the shadows. Because of this, pursuit of a psychedelic medicine path first requires contemplation, reflection from peers, and guidance from professionals. The decision should include a fearless exploration of the impulses, wishes, and fantasies associated with this modality. It requires patience, discipline, and accountability.

Below are some of questions to ask yourself before pursuing a psychedelic medicine path:

  • Why do I want to begin a psychedelic medicine path?
  • Are there non-substance alternatives that I haven’t tried?
  • Is there a specific medicine I am attracted to? Why?
  • What do I imagine will be the benefits of this work?
  • In what context do I want to begin this medicine work?
  • Have I attempted psychedelic use in the past? How did it go?
  • Am I in a good place to begin this work, or is it something I should consider down the road?
  • If this leads to relapse, is this a risk I am willing to take?

If you identify as an addict or a person in recovery and are exploring the option of a psychedelic medicine path, it is important to weigh the pro’s and con’s of this modality and understand the nuances. While psychedelics are not a magic bullet, they can certainly provide benefit when managed skillfully and intentionally. To ensure you are choosing a safe and intelligent path, start by consulting with a professional and discussing the possible risks and benefits.

Published by:
Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor based in Boulder, CO. Learn more about my integration and mental health services on my provider profile page in the Psychedelic Support Network. Learn more at my website Craig Salerno Counseling LLC. I look forward to working with you.

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