Study Finds Psilocybin Reduces Alcohol Cravings, Diminishes Shame-Based Thought Patterns in AUD

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The use of psilocybin and psychedelic therapy can be a helpful tool for individuals with AUD and could have a positive outcome that can result in self compassion.

A new qualitive study that analyzed the use of psilocybin as a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) found that the treatment diminished shame-based and self-critical thought patterns while reducing alcohol cravings. The goal of the study was to define the psychological changes that were reported in the first clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to treat AUD.1

AUD is classified as a mental health disorder and is extremely prevalent in the United States. The FDA offers various treatment options; however, they usually do not provide long-term recovery and have a high relapse rate, according to investigators.1

Whole psilocybin mushroom in a clear medication capsule | Image credit: Zim - stock.adobe.com

Whole psilocybin mushroom in a clear medication capsule | Image credit: Zim - stock.adobe.com

New treatment options like psychedelic drugs are being investigated because of the lack of long-term effects with more traditional treatments, in hopes of finding a more effective strategy. Psilocybin could potentially be an effective option for those suffering from AUD.

The findings of 2 recent studies with psilocybin provided preliminary support for the safety and efficacy of psilocybin-assisted therapy for patients with AUD . In one proof-of-concept study, by Bogenschutz et al, both the percent of drinking days and percent of heavy drinking days decreased significantly immediately after psilocybin was administered, and improvements were largely maintained at the 6-month follow-up point.1

The new study intends to go further in discussing the causal relationship between the psychological impact of psychedelic experiences, along with their therapeutic impact.1

In order to analyze this, the researchers chose 13 individuals who were in the previous study of the first double-blind randomized clinical trial of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. The participants were to engage in interviews that evaluated their subjective experience in the study, including questions that investigated the participant’s routine of drinking before and after the study. Other questions were asked regarding coping patterns that were used when they felt a strong emotional response to stress, and the need for alcohol. Other questions focused on stigma related to their experience of AUD and their participation in an intervention involving psychedelic drugs.1

According to the study, the results found that one of the main themes throughout the interviews were the use of destructive coping strategies while growing up and in their adult lives to suppress uncomfortable feelings. To manage these feelings, participants said they turned to alcohol as a tool.1

“Qualitative research gives us a direct understanding of the lived experience of psychedelic therapy clinical trial participants, from their perspective and in their own words. This study complements existing quantitative clinical research, adding detail and nuance to the picture of how the treatment unfolded and what future clinicians might encounter in their work with patients,” said Fluence co-founder and study co-author Elizabeth Nielson, PhD, in a press release.2

The study reported that the psilocybin treatment allowed participants to process emotions specifically related to painful experiences that happened in their past. Processing these emotions aided in more self-compassion, self-awareness, and feelings of interconnectedness. They also reported that they felt newfound feelings of belonging, which improved relationships in their lives.1

The findings suggest that the use of psilocybin and psychedelic therapy could be a helpful tool for individuals with AUD and will have a positive outcome that can result in self compassion.1

References:

1. Agin-Liebes G, Nielson EM, Zingman M, Kim K, Haas A, Owens LT, et al. Reports of self-compassion and affect regulation in psilocybin-assisted therapy for alcohol use disorder: An interpretive phenomenological analysis. Psychol Addict Behav. June 5, 2023. doi: 10.1037/adb0000935.

2. Research Uncovers Therapeutic Mechanisms Behind Psilocybin Therapy for Alcoholism. News Release. Integration Communications. June 5, 2023. Accessed June 11, 2023. https://integration-communications.prowly.com/246138-research-uncovers-therapeutic-mechanisms-behind-psilocybin-therapy-for-alcoholism

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