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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Carl Jung on Alcoholism, Addiction and "Attitude Adjustment"

Often referred to as a program of "attitude adjustment," the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister fellowships) were crafted to address the problem of the alcoholic addict where it centers - in his or her mind. In doing so, they are intended to address the thoughts, feelings and way of thinking that keeps the alcoholic addict in the throes of addiction, and they do so by uncovering an entirely new state of consciousness and being that exists within each of us.

"Attitude" is defined as "a settled . . . way of thinking," and it is the alcoholic addict's conditioned, or learned, "way of thinking" that must be overcome. Indeed, in describing the spiritual awakenings that had been reported as arresting chronic alcoholism, the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, observed that "(the) ideas, emotions and attitudes that were the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side and a completely new set of conceptions and motivations begin to dominate them."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 27.]

Note how these words "ideas," "attitudes," "conceptions," etc., all deal with mental phenomena. The 12 Steps are indeed "a program of action," yet all the actions that are suggested are meant to effect a mental rearrangement by allowing the recovering alcoholic addict to tap into the stream of a different, higher state of consciousness than his or or her ordinary, egoic "self" consciousness provides. Indeed, in Jung's view, the problem of "ego," or "self" consciousness, is the central dilemma of all humanity - addict and non-addict alike - only in the alcoholic addict, if unchecked, the "ego" will inevitably lead the sufferer to drink or drug once again in order to relieve this "bondage of self." In order to overcome this dilemma, Jung saw that a spiritual (or inner religious) conversion was necessary, and that such a spiritual awakening must be one that is grounded in experiential rather than merely intellectual knowledge.

Thus, in his book, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung observes:
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God," Jung points out, "can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world."

"For this," Jung notes, "he needs the inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," page 34.]
Indeed, in his belated correspondence with Bill W.  - in which Bill originally thanked Jung for his initial contribution to the chain of events that would lead to the founding of A.A. - Jung observed that "the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community." The 12 Steps are thus designed to provide just such insight.

Just as "attitude" can also describe the way in which an aircraft cuts through the sky, "attitude" (or his or her way of thinking) can describe the way an individual circumnavigates life. If centered in,  and identified wholly with, his or her egoic self-consciousness, the individual is left blowing in the wind with neither guide nor plan. But the same individual, armed with real and experiential religious or spiritual insight, and experiencing life through the higher consciousness and being which exists within each of us, becomes in Jung's terms "anchored in God." The Twelve Steps are, thus, designed to spark the spiritual (or inner religious) experience that makes this rarer state of consciousness and being possible.


  1. I've read with great interest. Thank you for creating this site. This contribution might well not be suitable; I make it as there is mention of Carl Jung. I'm referring to so-called "Drinking Dreams" that various members of AA encounter in their resting.
    The unconscious discourses by means of symbols - this is the idiom of Nature. It would seem that that being the case, the image of drinking (or avoiding to drink) from a glass, can, bottle
    cannot refer to the beverage alcohol, but to something else.
    Thank you again,

    1. That is a very interesting question. I know that many years after I stopped I still get (albeit infrequently) "drinking dreams." Interestingly, I also get "recovery dreams" - dreams where I believe I have drank and am fretting because I need to "chip up", so to speak. What's up with that??? My guess is that it has to do with the continuing "thirst of our being for wholeness, in medieval language: union with God." Waddaya think?

    2. I think you're absolutely right. Its so good to read what you've written.