Carl Jung and Alcoholism – History of Alcoholics Anonymous – The Begining of AA and Treatment for Alcoholism- The Spiritual Experience

Edited by Living Sober

Last updated December 15, 2008

In 1961 Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote a letter to the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in which he thanked him for helping spark the fire that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous. Carl Jung had worked with a hopeless alcoholics named Rowland H. According to Carl Jung, Rowland’s only chance to recover from his alcoholism was a “spiritual or religious experience – in short, a genuine conversion.” Jung went on to say that this type of spiritual experience had been happening to alcoholics for centuries, but that he did not know how to produce such a spiritual experience through the use of psychological methods. Jung wrote back to Jung and said that Rowland’s alcoholism was “the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.” Jung’s letter went on to say that, “…alcohol in Latin is spiritus” and that the same Latin word is used for “the highest religious experience as well as the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.”

The equally famous psychologist William James wrote something similar regarding alcoholism. In his book, The Variaties of Religious Experience, he said that the “sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its powers to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to the earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober our.” He then added, “The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.” James, in his book, describes a plethora of religious experiences that have happened to people over the centuries. Jung knew that the only hope for Rowland to recovery from his alcoholism was the kind of religious experience that James describes in his book.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. sought out to write out the steps needed to produce a religious experience in alcoholics and addicts of the type Jung and James talked about. Bill W. had had one of these religious/spiritual experiences that James and Jung describe. Bill’s spiritual experience stopped his chronic alcoholism abruptly and permanently. Alcoholics Anonymous is a series of twelve steps designed to create a spiritual experience, a “total psychic change,” of the type needed to cure chronic alcoholism. In fact, the only way a person can recover from drugs and/or alcohol is to have a total psychic shift based on spiritual priniciples. This is one of the reasons why psychology has failed to help alcoholics and addicts, because psychology, by definition, is not concerned with the type of spiritual element needed for a person to recover from drugs and alcohol.
Psychology and therapy has its place in recovery, but the only way to truly be free from drugs and alcohol for the rest of your life is to have a spiritual experience.

NTS Staff

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