Carl Jung's Real Treatment of Alcohol Addiction

For seventy years now, Alcoholics Anonymous has been repeating a story that claimed that the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung treated a rich American alcoholic Rowland Hazard, and Jung supposedly told Hazard that he must get a religious experience or else he would die of alcoholism.

Bill Wilson believed that "the only radical remedy ... for dipsomania is religiomania." Meaning: the only cure for alcoholism is religious fanaticism — religious mania. That suggestion allegedly came from Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, and when Carl Jung said "mania", he really did mean "mania", as in "maniac".

There is no truth to the story. That is just another fable that Bill Wilson made up to scare the suckers and get them to join his cult. Carl Jung was not in the habit of telling his patients that they would die unless they got a religious experience.

That dipsomania quote actually came from William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, page 263, footnote 1. Varieties says:
'"The only radical remedy I know for dipsomania is religiomania," is a saying I have heard quoted from some medical man.'

William James published Varieties in 1902, but he didn't meet Carl Jung until 1909, so it is unlikely that James got that line from Jung.

This subject came up again in a recent letter, here. This is that exchange:

"Even Carl Jung believed that alcoholics of the hopeless variety need to have some sort of spiritual expereince and he was a man of science and medicine."

Bullshit. That is one of the lies that Bill Wilson made up. Carl Jung never said any such thing. That whole story about Carl Jung telling Rowland Hazard that he must have a spiritual experience or he would die was just Bill's Bull, another scarey fairy tale intended to fool and frighten people into joining Bill's cult. "The Big Bad Booze Bogeyman will get you unless you believe in Bill's religion."

If you think that Jung said it, find the quote in his writings. It isn't there. Lots of us have been searching The Collected Works of Carl Jung for years, searching for anything like Jung proclaiming that alcoholics must have a spiritual experience, and Jung never said that.

Scaring patients with threats of death was what Dr. William Silkworth did, not Carl Jung. That was not Jung's style.

Then came that little man that we who live in this area saw so much, him with the kind blue eyes and white hair, Doc Silkworth. You'll remember that Doc said to me, "look Bill, you're preaching at these people too much. You've got the cart before the horse. This 'white flash' experience of yours scares those drunks to death. Why don't you put the fear of God into them first. You're always talking about James and The Varieties of Religious Experiences and how you have to deflate people before they can know God, how they must have humility. So, why don't you use the tool of the medical hopelessness of alcoholism for practically all those involved. Why don't you talk to the drunk about that allergy they've got and that obsession that makes them keep on drinking and guarantees that they will die. Maybe when you punch it into them hard it will deflate them enough so that they will find what you found.
Bill Wilson, speaking at the Memorial service for Dr. Bob, Nov. 15, 1952

We have discussed this issue before too, several times. Look here:


By the way, "religious experience" cure did not work on Rowland Hazard. He claimed that he had a "religious experience, which prompted him to join the Oxford Group cult religion for a while, where he helped Ebby Thacher to recruit Bill Wilson into the cult, and then Rowland relapsed and returned to a life of drinking, and drank on and off for the rest of his life. So much for the "religious cure of Carl Jung." So much for the "religious experience" that Rowland Hazard claimed that he experienced.

In response to that letter, just to triple-check the facts once again, I requested a bunch of Jung's books from the local library system. I got five books, and only one of them even mentioned alcohol abuse. This is the one and only story of Carl Jung treating a case of excessive drinking:

An American colleague sent me a patient. The accompanying diagnosis read "alcoholic neurasthenia." The prognosis called him "incurable." My colleague had therefore taken the precaution of advising the patient to see also a certain neurological authority in Berlin, for he expected that my attempt at therapy would lead to nothing. The patient came for consultation, and after I had talked a little with him I saw that the man had an ordinary neurosis, of whose psychic origins he had no inkling. I made an association test and discovered that he was suffering from the effects of a formidable mother complex. He came from a rich and respected family, had a likeable wife and no cares — externally speaking. Only he drank too much. The drinking was a desperate attempt to narcotize himself, to forget his oppressive situation. Naturally, it did not help.

His mother was the owner of a large company, and the unusually talented son occupied a leading post in the firm. He really should long since have escaped from his oppressive subordination to his mother, but he could not summon up the resolution to throw up his excellent position. Thus he remained chained to his mother, who had installed him in the business. Whenever he was with her, or had to submit to her interference with his work, he would start drinking in order to stupefy or discharge his emotions. A part of him did not really want to leave the comfortably warm nest, and against his own instincts he was allowing himself to be seduced by wealth and comfort.

After brief treatment he stopped drinking, and considered himself cured. But I told him, "I do not guarantee that you will not relapse into the same state if you return to your former situation." He did not believe me, and returned home to America in fine fettle.

As soon as he was back under his mother's influence, the drinking began again. Thereupon I was called by her to a consultation during her stay in Switzerland. She was an intelligent woman, but was a real "power devil." I saw what the son had to contend with, and realized that he did not have the strength to resist. Physically, too, he was rather delicate and no match for his mother. I therefore decided upon an act of force majeure. Behind his back I gave his mother a medical certificate to the effect that her son's alcoholism rendered him incapable of fulfilling the requirements of his job. I recommended his discharge. This advice was followed — and the son, of course, was furious with me.

Here I had done something which normally would be considered unethical for a medical man. But I knew that for the patient's sake I had had to take this step.

His further development? Separated from his mother, his own personality was able to unfold. He made a brilliant career — in spite of, or rather just because of the strong horse pill I had given him. His wife was grateful to me, for her husband had not only overcome his alcoholism, but had also struck out on his own individual path with greatest success.

Nevertheless, for years I had a guilty conscience about this patient because I had made out that certificate behind his back, although I was certain that only such an act could free him. And indeed, once his liberation was accomplished, the neurosis disappeared.

== Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C. G. Jung, Pages 121-122.
Vantage Books, A division of Random House Inc., New York, 1989.
ISBN: 0-679-72395-1
LC: BF109J8A3 1989
Dewey: 150.19'54—dc19

Carl Jung did not jabber any nonsense about how the man had to get himself a religious experience. Jung said that the man had to get away from his oppressive mother. And Jung did not demand that the man become the abject slave of a cult religion or the obedient subordinate of a sponsor. Rather, Jung set the man free. And Jung did not say one word about the man having to find a "Higher Power", or needing a "religious experience".

And that's it. I have just gone through five books of the writings and teachings of Carl Jung, and that is the one and only reference to treating alcoholic patients. And Jung's treatment was just the opposite of what Alcoholics Anonymous claims.

The only other mention of alcohol is this:

Jede Form von Süchtigkeit is von übel, gleichgültig, ob es sich um Alkohol oder Morphium oder Idealismus handelt.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875—1961), Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken (1962) ch. 12

Translated, it says:
Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C. G. Jung, Pages 329.
Vantage Books, A division of Random House Inc., New York, 1989.

These four other books of Jung's teachings do not contain any references to alcoholism at all, never mind the ridiculous story that alcoholics must get a spiritual or religious experience:

  1. The Basic Writings of C. G. Jung, Edited, with an introduction by Violet Staub de Laszlo.
    The Modern Library, New York, 1993.
    ISBN 0-679-60071-X
    LC: BF109.J8A25
    Dewey: 150.19'54—dc20 or 150.1954

  2. The Basic Writings of C. G. Jung, Edited, with an introduction by Violet Staub de Laszlo.
    The Modern Library, New York, 1959.
    LCCN: 59-5910

  3. Jung; The Key Ideas, Ruth Snowden
    McGraw-Hill, 2010.
    Dewey: 150.1954 SNO

  4. The Essential Jung, Selected and Introduced by Anthony Storr
    MJF Books, New York, 1983.
    ISBN: 1-56731-150-4
    Dewey: 150.1964 JUNG

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Last updated 9 February 2014.
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