AlcoholAversion TherapyDetoxRecovery

Alcohol Addiction Recovery: AA vs Aversion Therapy

By January 31, 2019 August 1st, 2019 No Comments
Alcohol Addiction Recovery: AA vs Aversion Therapy

Although over 15 million adults struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD),1 many people don’t know the facts about their options for alcohol addiction recovery. This article explores a few of the most popular options for alcohol addiction recovery.

The Alcohol Addiction Crisis in America

When she was thirteen, Samantha’s friends made fun of her if she didn’t have a drink. She gave in, it was easier to join the crowd. She was unhappy and alcohol became the escape. Samantha stopped going out as much, only to feel more isolated. The bottle became her only real friend. She left home and begged for money to buy drinks as a homeless young adult. The doctors later determined Samantha’s alcohol addiction had caused irreparable damage to her health. The very thing that Samantha clung to for relief was killing her…2

While Samantha’s addiction began rather quickly, it was a slower, less noticeable process for Faye. Faye’s alcohol addiction built gradually but steadily. She eventually realized that she was drinking both in the morning and afternoon. She decided to stop, but determination alone wasn’t enough. Faye wouldn’t be alcohol-free for a few more days while her body experienced extreme withdrawal. Insomnia, aching bones, and mounting anxiety exhausted Faye’s determination. By day two of detox, her shaking hands managed to pour a glass of gin; each gulp replaced agony with relief. Faye painfully realized that she was hooked, and she couldn’t quit…2

Millions of Americans are just like Samantha and Faye. Their occasional social drinking habits turn into compulsory urges for alcohol. They begin regularly drinking out of necessity, to hide from pain or depression. Others unconsciously pick up an addiction somewhere along the way. People often wake up and realize that they need to change, but long-term sobriety is more like a distant hope that never comes true. In either case, people like Samantha and Faye would have a much better shot at long-term sobriety if they understood their options for alcohol addiction recovery.

Quitting Alcohol Alone is Never Recommended

The most popular way that most people try to detox and recover from alcohol addiction is by simply quitting cold turkey at home. This option is enticing because of the low cost and simplicity. However, American Addiction Centers has warned that at-home detox is never recommended3 because of the hidden dangers of detoxing alone. People who detox at home don’t have access to the medication and constant monitoring that is offered in medical facilities. Extreme alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become fatal, but medical professionals can ensure that people are safe and mitigate the discomfort.

In addition to the health risks, people who quit alcohol alone miss out on the addiction recovery opportunities that are offered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or aversion therapy. Simply quitting alcohol does not remove the addiction or cravings. While only about 30% of people who self-detox are successful, most people who attempt alcohol addiction recovery at home fail.4 Addiction recovery programs help train people to handle their triggers and cravings.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step Program

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It’s a nonprofessional, self-supporting program that welcomes anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem.5 AA created the 12-step program for addiction recovery. Even though this doesn’t involve a medical solution for detox, the 12-step program focuses on helping people accept that they have a problem and make amends to build their moral strength to overcome the addiction.6 The 12-step program is meant to help people recover from their addiction in the long term.

AA meetings help recovering addicts find healing and therapy through open and honest discussion with others who are going through the same thing. Many people feel encouraged simply by knowing that they are not alone and that there are others who are going through recovery with them.7

The low cost and community appeal of Alcoholics Anonymous has made it one of the go-to options for alcohol addiction recovery. However, many people don’t realize that the 12-step program is relatively ineffective for alcoholics. Although this program can be used for a large spectrum of other addictions, its actual success rate for alcohol addiction recovery in the long term is only between 5 and 8 percent.8 Most people will need a better option for long-term alcohol addiction recovery.

Alcohol Addiction Recovery Through Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is a form of counter-conditioning that pairs unwanted behavior with discomfort. During aversion therapy for alcohol, a patient will consume some of their alcohol of choice, which is followed by a stimulus that makes them feel sick. When this experience is repeated, the patient’s brain is trained to associate alcohol with feelings of sickness and discomfort.9 This treatment eliminates the craving for alcohol to help people achieve long-term sobriety.

Aversion therapy isn’t as popular as the 12-step program because it usually requires an inpatient treatment program and costs more. For those who are serious, it has proven to be an extremely effective solution for alcohol addiction recovery. The University of Washington conducted an independent study about the effectiveness of aversion therapy and found that 12 months after treatment at Schick Shadel Hospital, 69% of patients were still sober.10 Aversion therapy is significantly more effective than the 12-step program and medical professionals ensure that it is safer than quitting alcohol at home.

A Real-Life Story About Aversion Therapy

The final story is from Jo. She was addicted to alcohol for 15 years before she quit with the help of aversion therapy. Jo drank heavily on a regular basis and, as a result, her world was unraveling faster than he could piece it back together. She repeated the same lie hundreds of times: “I am never going to drink again.” Truthfully, she didn’t believe she could stop. Yet the hope that she could someday escape the clutches of addiction was the only thing standing between Jo and suicide. After checking into an aversion therapy clinic, Jo finally had the tools to face her demons. She had never experienced anything like aversion therapy before. However, she pushed through because nothing else done before had worked. Jo reports that she is still disgusted with the thought of drinking alcohol years after her treatment. To read her full story, click here.11



1 Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2019). Retrieved 29 January 2019, from

2 (2019). Retrieved 29 January 2019, from

3 Alcohol Detox at Home: How to, Risks and Alternatives. (2019). American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 29 January 2019, from

4 The Myths of Alcohol Self-Detox: Do Not Try This at Home!. (2019). Retrieved 29 January 2019, from

5 Alcoholics Anonymous : What Is A.A.?. (2019). Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

6 (2019). Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

7 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – Support Through 12 Steps. (2019). Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

8 Glaser, G. (2015). The Bad Science of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

9 How Does Aversion Therapy Work to Fix Unwanted Behaviors?. (2019). Verywell Mind. Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

10 Elkins, R., Richards, T., Nielsen, R., Repass, R., Stahlbrandt, H., & Hoffman, H. (2017). The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI Study. Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00182

11 Weatherford, J. (2015). The Gift of Aversion Therapy: How I Purged My Way to Sobriety. Retrieved 30 January 2019, from

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