Addiction: A Jungian Perspective

Addiction: A Jungian Perspective

(I wrote the following post for the Jung Society of Utah blog. The free workshop on addiction at beautiful Cirque Lodge in Orem, UT was a wonderful and highly informative event.)

“[Addiction is] the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.”
– C.G. Jung

Carl Jung was highly influential in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Jung intuited that those suffering from addiction were actually in search of the numinous, or a spiritual experience associated with the divine. Jung shared this insight in a letter to Bill W., one of the founders of AA.

A “Hopeless” Case

Rowland H. (
Rowland H. (Image from recoveredalcoholic.

In 1926, Jung treated an American patient named Rowland H. for alcoholism. However, Rowland relapsed soon after leaving Zurich. He returned to seek Jung’s help. Jung told Rowland that neither medicine nor psychiatry had a cure for alcoholism, but explained, “Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences.” Jung described such experiences as “huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.” However, Jung cautioned that these experiences are “comparatively rare.”

Many years later, Jung received a letter from Bill W., explaining that Rowland had joined a religious movement called the Oxford Groups, and there he found “a conversion experience that released him for the time being from his compulsion to drink.” Rowland carried this message of inner change to his friend, Ebby T., who then carried it to Bill, who co-founded AA. In his letter to Jung, Bill wrote, “This astonishing chain of events actually started long ago in your consulting room, and it was directly founded upon your own humility and deep perception.”

“Spiritus Contra Spiritum”

Jung treated many alcoholic patients at the Burghölzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zurich (Image from Wikimedia).
Jung treated many alcoholic patients at the Burghölzli Psychiatric Hospital in Zurich (Image from Wikimedia).

In his reply to Bill W., Jung wrote, “You see, “alcohol” in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” Jung believed it is necessary to replace the addictive substance with a transcendent experience that the individual finds more satisfying. He explained that this type of experience “can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism.”

Psychologist James Hillman phrased it more simply: “You don’t really want the alcohol. If you can find out what you really want, if you can find your true desire, then you’ve got the answer to your addiction.”

Would you like to learn more about addiction and recovery? Attend a FREE workshop at Cirque Lodge on Saturday, November 14, 2015. In this workshop, we will explore the roots of Jung’s influence and the practical application of these insights in addiction treatment today.

The presenters will be: Burton Fullmer CMHC, CPW, Beverly Roesch, LCSW, SUDC and Machiel Klerk, LMFT

Read about the presenters HERE.

All mental health professionals are eligible to receive three (3) complimentary CEs.


When: Saturday November 14th, 2015
Time: 10:00 am-1:00 pm
Where: Cirque Lodge Orem, 777 N. Palisade Drive, Orem, Utah 84097


This event is sponsored by Trace Minerals Research.