How Counter Conditioning Works

Alcohol and other drugs create deceptive feelings of well-being. More and more confidence is placed in the substance, while other survival needs are ignored and bypassed. The result is a lack of concern for and confidence in other areas of life, compounded by physical dependence on the drug. The repetitious act of drug or alcohol use strengthens the memory. Like a hard drive or digital camera, physical experiences stored in the memory can be played back when signaled. Addiction builds associations in the brain that become embedded in short and long-term memory.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation with counter conditioning works because it targets the signals for those memories with an aversive response. Environmental stimuli, such as taste, smell, sight, and setting, cause the brain to subconsciously associate pleasurable feelings with the use of drugs or alcohol, which is the root of a craving. These stimuli are used with a medically supervised stimulus to create an aversion, or an unpleasant motor response such as nausea. The result is that the patient’s brain will automatically associate addictive substances with unpleasant feelings, eliminating the craving.

Brain & Body Conditioning

Many people have probably experienced counter conditioning in their lives. For example, suppose you loved cherries. One day, you make yourself violently sick from eating too many cherries. As a result, from that moment on, the thought of cherries would make you nauseous because you would associate them with that experience.

Using this principle, Schick Shadel can ensure that we attack drug and alcohol addiction where it lives: in the psychology and physiology of the patient, where the brain has formed associations and memories that cannot be rationalized or argued out of existence. A person can spend hours of precious time and energy fighting cravings through sheer willpower, but Schick Shadel believes that alcohol and drug rehabilitation can be more effective. We want to give our patients a life free from the constant struggle that wears on even the most successful recovering addicts.