Personal Development

Treating Addiction With Psychedelics – Part 2: Preparation

The Third Wave · September 13th, 2018

This series on the psychedelic treatment of addiction is written by Benjamin Taub from Previously, part one gave an overview of the potential of psychedelics in treating addiction. Here, part two explains why correct preparation for psychedelic therapy could determine its success.

Ibogaine and other psychedelics have enormous potential to facilitate recovery from addiction, but a lack of proper preparation often leads to either a failure to get clean or a brief period of sobriety followed by a relapse. By laying the groundwork correctly, however, it is possible to undergo a genuine rite of passage and transform the painful aspects of the psyche, paving the way for a rewarding and satisfying new life after addiction.

As is always the case with psychedelics, “set and setting” play a major role in determining the nature and outcome of the experience. “Set” refers to the state of a mind of a person using psychedelics, including aspects such as intentionality, expectation and motivation, while “setting” relates to the environment in which the experience takes place. It is typically the former that requires the most work when preparing for psychedelic treatment for addiction, as developing the correct mentality can make all the difference between success and failure.

Preparing the mind

First and foremost, this requires a realistic understanding of what to expect: psychedelics cannot make you give up drugs or provide you with immunity to their effects, but they can empower you to take control of your life and start making better decisions. They do this by helping people come to terms with the reservoir of subconscious pain that compels them to self-medicate. In other words, psychedelics remove the need to use addictive drugs by helping people become more comfortable with who they are, which is why it is essential to approach treatment with a genuine commitment to self-knowledge and self-actualization, rather than just detoxification.

It is no coincidence that in all indigenous cultures that use psychedelic plants for healing, those being treated are required to undergo a period of psychological preparation before they are given any consciousness-altering substances. Renowned anthropologist Arnold van Gennep was the first to recognize the importance of this preparatory phase, describing how those undergoing transformation learn to disengage from the parts of their psyche that have hit a roadblock and must be outgrown. In doing so, they enter into a so-called “liminal” state whereby they are released from certain aspects of their social conditioning and are therefore free to connect to a more rewarding and actualized version of themselves during their psychedelic experience. In some cultures, this process is symbolically enforced by the temporary removal of names, while in other more extreme cases initiates are required to physically depart from their social roles and spend a period of time living alone in the forest.

Similarly, anyone hoping to overcome addiction must first begin the work of disengaging from the parts of their self-image that keep them trapped in pain and continually hijack their decision-making by compelling them to self-medicate. Though it isn’t necessary to retreat into the woods, it is essential to begin developing an awareness of the culturally-conditioned narratives that perpetuate one’s subconscious pain, and generating an intention to transform this internal chatter.

For example, some may have a deep-seated narrative of inadequacy, which can become activated by even the slightest setbacks in life. At such times, their inner voice bombards them with insults and accusations, damaging self-esteem and creating a spiral of negativity that becomes the motivation for drug use. However, becoming aware of this subconscious process leads to the understanding that one’s self-image is nothing but a conditioned narrative and is not a true reflection of one’s authentic self. Learning to distance oneself from this narrative prior to treatment will make it possible to finally connect to a more meaningful, uplifting, and actualized self-image during the psychedelic experience.

The lifestyle element

As well as identifying the internal narratives that dictate one’s decision-making, it is also necessary to begin analyzing how these are perpetuated and reinforced by one’s lifestyle. For example, turbulent relationships or chaotic living conditions may be contributing to one’s inauthentic self-image by mobilizing a narrative of failure, abandonment, or inadequacy, and generating the pain that creates the need to use drugs. Since psychedelic treatment is not really about drug use per se, but rather aims at transforming the narratives behind the addiction, it is important to start taking measures to eliminate lifestyle factors that hold one’s former narrative in place. This may involve anything from altering one’s social network to redecorating one’s apartment and will vary from person to person.

Naturally, many people find it difficult to reshape their lifestyle while they are still gripped by addiction, and the process of rebuilding one’s day-to-day life is something that generally occurs after undergoing treatment and getting clean. However, it is important to remember that psychedelics do not provide all the answers. Instead, they open the door for those who want to become more aware of the existential processes that dictate their decision-making and begin making more conscious choices that are not driven by subconscious pain.

Identifying and distancing oneself from some of the issues that perpetuate this pain prior to treatment creates vital space to begin putting one’s psychedelic insights into practice and learning to navigate the world anew after treatment. In other words, preparing properly creates space for integration by generating an environment in which one can explore, develop, and fortify one’s new connection to life without being derailed by one’s old triggers.

The next step

Once you have identified and understood the parts of yourself that are linked to addictive behaviors, you will be better equipped for the psychedelic experience itself. The next step is to know what to expect in the experience, and how to confront the dark sides of your psyche without losing yourself.

Read part three in this series here.

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