For the month of October, Bustle's #blessed series will explore how young women are searching for meaning, finding connections to a higher power and navigating spirituality in 2017.
If you haven’t heard about the recent craze of using crystals for healing and wellness, you just might be living under a rock (sorry, had to). Over the last few years, the practice — which holds that gemstones can be used to promote physical and spiritual health — has exploded out of the once-marginalized world of covens and New Age psychics, and become a massive mainstream phenomena, especially among millennials. But according to some crystal advocates, the stones don’t just encourage abstract benefits like "vibrational healing" and "chakra alignment" — many claim they can also provide very tangible help to those who are struggling to stay sober.
According to the people who utilize them, crystals heal by acting as conduits for positive intentions. They say that you can tap into that power in a wide variety of ways — from bathing or meditating with crystals to using crystal sex toys — and that doing so can provide benefits that range from improving confidence to curing forms of chronic fatigue. And, some advocates say, crystals can support (or supplant) traditional recovery practices like psychotherapy, support groups, medication-assisted treatment and other clinically-proven addiction therapies.
But as a health and science writer (as well as a practicing witch), I’ve always taken my crystal store guy’s claims of cosmic divinity with a grain of salt — scientifically speaking, there is no evidence that crystals can cure any diseases. So, as both a logically-minded advocate for recovery and a passionate metaphysical romantic, I decided to get to the bottom of these claims that crystals can help you get sober.
The "Sobriety Stone"
I first heard about people using crystals to overcome their addictions from my friend Maria*, who is two years sober and has tried everything from Alcoholic’s Anonymous, to therapy, to medical marijuana, and yes, even witchcraft, in her journey to recovery. And according to her, boy, were there lots of people trying out crystal healing and advocating for its use in her 12-step program.
A quick search of recovery forums and message boards confirmed her stories. Amethyst, a purple quartz-like crystal known as the “sobriety stone” in many recovery circles, is typically the talisman of choice — though others recommend lithium quartz, a silvery-white metal best known for its real-world use as an ingredient in medications for mental health disorders, as well as smokey quartz, a dark grey silicate touted for its ability to provide protection against negativity and peer pressure.
For Maria, who tried out both amethyst and lithium during her brief stint in AA, using crystals was not the magic catalyst her fellow group members promised. But I did recently speak to two women who swear that something in the stones seriously helped them make the transition into sobriety.
Ruby Warrington, author of Material Girl, Mystical World: The Now Age Guide to a High Vibe Life and founder of the cosmic lifestyle website The Numinous has been using metaphysical practices to break her attachment to alcohol and other drugs. Over the past six years, Ruby has tried out everything from meditation and yoga to astrology and tarot in her journey to what she calls a “sober-curious” lifestyle.
As she details in her 2017 book, Warrington left her job as a fashion editor at the Sunday Times in 2010, moving from London to New York City as part of a long journey to find fulfillment from the great beyond. Though she still drinks from time to time, the 41-year-old creative director claims her relationship to alcohol has changed dramatically since she started using crystals.
“For the past year, I’ve had a large piece of amethyst on my nightstand,” Warrington tells Bustle, who first started investigating the healing properties of crystals while writing a story for her site. “And I have to say, this definitely has been the year where I’ve really felt a shift from being someone who was always consciously aware of the fact that I was choosing not to drink, to it being something I don’t really think about anymore.”
According to Ruby, amethyst is known as the “sobriety stone” because it’s purported to heighten your spiritual connection to the astral plane and bring about relaxation — two effects many people look for in alcohol. Since picking up the stone at a small crystal shop in the West Village last spring, Ruby says she’s only had a drink three or four times, and no longer gets out of control when she does choose to imbibe.
“I never thought I would be that person,” Warrington told me. “I thought that my addiction, or my drinking patterns, were so deeply ingrained that it would always be a kind of battle for me.”
Meanwhile, across the pond, UK yoga instructor and life coach Rachel Hanberry says she had a similar experience with a massive amethyst crystal she picked up on Instagram while in the midst of her own battle with alcohol addiction.
“I’d been drawn to the stone for a while, kept seeing pictures of it and thought it was beautiful,” Hanberry tells Bustle. Unlike Warrington, who’s in the business of knowing about all sorts of metaphysical approaches, Hanberry “didn’t know anyone who had used it around me or before in their teachings.”
Guided by intuition, Rachel started meditating with her amethyst last winter, practicing with it on her yoga mat and sleeping with it under her pillow at night. “My attitude toward alcohol really changed that final time I said that’s enough and gave myself permission to not ever have to drink again,” Hanberry recalls, who now regularly blogs about her recovery and sobriety. “I guess the stone has always really reinforced that in me.”
“That crystal becomes like a talisman, that I can look at and be reminded of my own power to create my reality through my actions and choices.”
As to why and how the crystals work, both Hanberry and Warrington believe their power comes from the way the crystals remind them every day of their own inner power and determination to keep their addictions at bay.
“I think it’s that connection to something bigger than us, the fact that they’re a natural substance you can physically hold and that connects you to your higher self, or that greater sense of being,” Hanberry explains.
“That crystal becomes like a talisman, that I can look at and be reminded of the power of my thoughts and my own power to create my reality through my actions and choices,” Warrington adds.
‘Don’t Come Back If You’re Going To Keep Doing That’
But while it's clear that some people absolutely feel that crystals support their sobriety, the question of what crystal healing practitioners think people in recovery should expect from their crystals is much more complex.
One of the first things Kalisa Augustine, an energy worker and certified Crystal Light Bed Therapist, told me when I asked her about using crystals to get sober, was this: “When it comes to addiction, it is dangerous to put all of your credence in a crystal, as if that is going to heal you.” In fact, the high-profile metaphysician — who has worked with the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Parker Posey, Zoe Kravitz and Melanie Laurent — almost didn’t talk to me for this article because of what she feels is a huge misunderstanding about her practice.
“The important thing to remember here is that this is very subtle energy stuff, stuff that you can really only feel once you get to a place of balance” Augustine tells Bustle. “People who are suffering from a really serious addiction are not going to be attuned to that subtle energy. The will to heal on that level, that comes from within.”
According to Augustine, the way she and many other practitioners use crystals today is based off of something called “quantum alchemy” — a New Age theory first popularized by IBM scientist Marcel Vogel in the 1970s. After conducting research on how crystals can be used in everything from watches to computer chips as conduits for electromagnetic energy, Vogel began trying to apply the science to more spiritual areas of study.
Vogel’s disciples believe that the grid-like crystalline structures of different gemstones can help humans tap into an invisible electromagnetic field around the body — “The soul, the life force, the chi, whatever you want to call it,” Augustine explains — allowing positive energy to flow into the body while pushing negative energy out, just as the silica crystals in our computer chips help information flow in and out.
“All sorts of well-intentioned people have come up with all kinds of unproven, interesting-sounding approaches. The problem with them is that most of them have not been tested and many don’t work.”
But again, she is careful to explain, this healing is dependent on what you bring to the table — crystals won't do the heavy lifting for you. For example, “I once had a younger girl come in and she was doing a lot of [cocaine],” recalls Augustine. “She wanted all these higher vibe things to happen in the world. So I kept cleaning her out and cleaning her out, and ended up getting to a point where I said ‘Don’t come back if you’re going to keep doing that.’”
The Limits of Crystal Healing
Kathleen M. Carroll, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, says that those looking to crystals to keep them sober should think twice. Carroll, who has devoted her career to analyzing behavioral treatments and medical techniques for treating addiction, tells Bustle: “All sorts of well-intentioned people have come up with all kinds of unproven, interesting-sounding approaches. The problem with them is that most of them have not been tested and many don’t work.”
Dr. Carroll’s bottom-line regarding using crystals to help overcome an addiction is that while meditating with gemstones might make you feel better on an emotional level, crystals aren’t going to change the fundamental nature of addiction — which is a serious physical and mental illness that often requires people to re-train both their brains and bodies on a biological level to overcome it.
Dr. Carroll suggests that, instead of spending money on $300-a-pop Crystal Light Bed therapy sessions or giant amethyst crystals, people fighting addictions use clinically-approved treatments like naltrexone for alcohol and opioid use disorders, medication-assisted treatments like buprenorphine and methadone for heroin addiction, and cognitive behavioral therapy and support groups like AA, NA and Rational Recovery. “Why waste your time or risk your money or your health when there are affordable, effective, and proven treatments available?” she asks.
That being said, Dr. Carroll is in support of doing further testing on meditation's role in recovery (to their credit, crystal therapy practitioners often use meditation in tandem with their work). “We can learn a lot from approaches that have been around for a long time, like mindfulness,” she explains. And current research on meditation — some of which indicates that meditating on thoughts of well being can potentially make people more mentally and physically resilient —offers a hint as to why people might find meditating with their crystals to be such a helpful part of their recovery program.
As for why some people feel that crystals specifically help their recovery, a 2001 study on crystal healing by Dr. Christopher French, head of the anomalistic psychology research institute at the University of London, suggests that the power of the placebo effect could be why people who love gemstones feel so good after using them.
In that study, French asked 80 people to meditate for five minutes while holding either a real quartz crystal or a fake crystal that they believed was real. Half of the study subjects were primed to notice any effects that the crystals might have on them (i.e. tingling or warmth) before meditating, while half were not. Each participant was then given a survey about the effects of their crystal healing session.
Unfortunately for all of the vendors of $100 Vogel-cut crystals out there, the healing effects reported by participants were no different whether they received fake crystals or the real quartz talismans. “But whether or not you judge crystal healing or any other form of [complementary and alternative medicine] to be totally worthless depends upon your attitude to placebo effects" noted French in his conclusion for the study.
So, can crystals really help you overcome an addiction? According to both the doctors and crystal therapists I talked to, probably not without first accessing the proper support structures and treatment for recovery. But if you’re looking for a New Age way to help supplement your transition to a healthier lifestyle, or simply a visual reminder to help keep you grounded in your journey to recovery, why not? If buying an amethyst or a tourmaline and wearing it proudly as a symbol of your journey to mindful sobriety helps you, I’m all for the metaphysical addition.