Detoxing in the 1930's

Special thanks to Barefoot Bill for the following.....

In "Pass It On" it says that:
"When Bill described Towns as 'a nationally known hospital for the mental & physical rehabilitation of alcoholics,' he was not exaggerating, but someone else who remembered the hospital described it simply as a place where alcoholics were 'purged & puked.' The purging was most probably the effect of the liberal doses of castor oil that the patients were given, together with belladonna. The belladonna treatment at Towns had been developed by Dr. Sam Lambert, a reputable N.Y. physician...."

Bill was admitted to Towns Hospital on 12/11/34 at 2:30PM & underwent belledonna treatment, hydrotherapy & mild exercise. Dr. Lambert described the belladonna treatment as follows (this is from "AA - The Way It Began" by Bill Pittman, pages 164-166, 168):  "Briefly stated, it consists in the hourly dosage of a mixture of belladonna, hyoscyamus & xanthoxylum. The mixture is given every hour, day & night, for about 50 hours. There is also given about every 12 hours a vigorous catharsis of C.C. pills & blue mass. At the end of the treatment, when it is evident that there are abundant bilious stools, castor oil is given to clean out thoroughly the intestinal tract. If you leave any of the ingredients out, the reaction of the cessation of desire is not as clear cut as when the 3 are mixed together. The amount necessary to give is judged by the physiologic action of the belladonna it contains. When the face becomes flush, the throat dry, & the pupils of the eyes dilated, you must cut down your mixture or cease giving it altogether, until these symptoms pass. You must, however, push this mixture until these symptoms appear, or you will not obtain a clear cut cessation of the desire for the narcotic.
The exact contents of each ingredient is below:

Belladonna Specific:
Tincture belladonnae (62. gm.)
Fluidextracti xanthoryli.
Fluidextracti hyoscyami (.31 gm.)

Belladona - Atropa belladonna
Deadly nightshade; a perennial herb with dark purple flowers & black berries. Leaves & root contain atropine & related alkaloids which are anticholinergic. It is a powerful excitant of the brain with side effects of delirium (wild & talkative), decreased secretion, & diplopia.

Xanthoxylum - Xanthoxylum Americanum
The dried bark or berries of prickly ash. Alkaloid of Hydrasts. Helps with chronic gastro-intestinal disturbances. Carminative & diaphoretic.

Hyoscyamus - Hyoskyamos
Henbane, hog's bean, insane root from the leaves & flowers of Hyoscyamus Niger. Contains 2 alkaloids, hyoscyamine & hyoscine. Nervous system sedative, anticholinergic, & antispasmodic.

Close observation is necessary in treating the alcoholic in regard to the symptoms of the intoxication of belladonna, as alcoholics are sensitive to the effects of belladonna delirium. According to Lanbert, it is a less furious & less pugnacious delirium than that of alcohol. The patients are more persistent & more insistent in their ideas & more incisive in their speech concerning hallucinations. The hallucinations of alcohol are usually those of an occupation delirium; those of belladonna are not. The various hallucinations of alcohol follow each other so quickly that a man is busily occupied in observing them one after another. The belladonna delirium is apt to be confined to one or two ideas on which the patient is very insistent. If these symptoms of belladonna intoxication occur, of course, the specific must be discontinued; then beginning again with the original smaller dose. Towns believed the attending physician would find it most difficult to differentiate between alcoholic delirium & belladonna delirium.
After this treatment, with its vigorous elimination, the patient would feel languid & relaxed, but the craving for alcohol would have ceased."

My comments:  (Barefoot Bill's)

Bill W. had been detoxed 3 or 4 times that year (or more) so his detoxing was from smaller periods of alcohol use, so it's possible that the doctors did not have to give him the full treatment (mentioned above) as they would have if he had come in after years of uninterrupted alcohol abuse. In Bill's Story (Big Book pages 13 & 14), it says that Ebby told him again about the Oxford Group spiritual solution. After doing most of the work (what later became the 12 Steps) & fully accepting the Oxford Group solution, he THEN had what has been affectionately referred to as "Bill W.'s Hot Flash" - a white light, life changing spiritual experience. He shared the experience with Dr. Silkworth on 12/14/34 so this happened 3 to 4 days AFTER he was admitted to the hospital & 1 to 2 days AFTER the belladonna treatment would have been over with IF used for the FULL 2 days, which it might not have been. Was the spiritual experience Bill W. had influenced by belladonna or inner surrender? Those against AA sometimes say it was drug induced & those with AA say it wasn't, depending upon the answer they are looking for. Either way, the experience changed his life, as well as millions of people now living the 12 Steps ever since. I DO KNOW THIS. I was more than 3 & 1/2 years clean & sober of any drugs (including belladonna) & alcohol when I had my spiritual experience AS THE RESULT of the EXACT same course of action that Bill W. followed, & COINCIDENTALLY I got the EXACT SAME results he did - a life changing spiritual experience. These are facts from MY experience & NOT speculation, so you know which way I lean on this issue.  I always thought that the belladonna side effects I heard about were extreme but now I see that they were less extreme than the D.T.'s.


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