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What is Aversion Therapy?

By November 29, 2018 April 12th, 2021 No Comments
Aversion therapy is an effective treatment method for alcohol and drug addictions .

Drugs and Alcohol: A Public Health Emergency

In the wake of a public health emergency,1 deaths caused by drug and alcohol overdose in America rise to new heights year after year. Over 63,000 American deaths were attributed to drug overdose in 2016 and we thought it couldn’t get worse. Then 2017 ushered in another year of tragedy as over 72,000 more people lost their lives due to a drug overdose.2 People are realizing that overcoming addiction requires more than sheer willpower and moral strength. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms that addiction should be treated as a disease and it requires medical attention to be cured.3

Only about 10% of participants in Alcoholics Anonymous who use the 12 Step Program actually recover from their addiction.4 As a result, people are seeking more effective addiction recovery treatments. We have seen a growing interest in aversion therapy as “what is aversion therapy” internet searches are on the rise.

What is Aversion Therapy?

Addiction.com states that the goal of aversion therapy is to eliminate bad habits or self-destructive behaviors by pairing the behavior with an unpleasant stimulus.5

According to Harvard Medical School, addictions to alcohol or drugs change the user’s brain structure and function.6 Addiction essentially teaches the brain to be dependent on alcohol or drugs. Therefore, the function of aversion therapy is to help patients “unlearn” or remove their addiction with proper reconditioning that retrains the brain.7

How Aversion Therapy Works

Aversion therapy is extremely effective compared to the 12-step program. Although it’s not a pleasant experience, aversion therapy at Schick Shadel Hospital is monitored by medical staff to ensure that the patient is not at risk.

We’ll use an example of a patient with alcoholism to explain the process of aversion therapy. The patient will be placed in a treatment room that contains an empty basin, alcohol advertisements, and several types and brands of alcohol in their original bottles. First, the patient takes a sip of alcohol while under the effect of a nausea-inducing medication. Then, the sip of alcohol is almost immediately followed by vomiting and nausea. Aversion therapy breaks down the previous association between alcohol and feelings of happiness or wellness. Instead, the brain is retrained to associate alcohol with uncomfortable memories of sickness and nausea.

Aversion Therapy Treatment Room

Is Aversion Therapy Effective?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine published a study about the outcome with patients who had completed a 10-day treatment for alcoholism using aversion therapy. As a result, the patients had significantly higher confidence that they could avoid relapse in a high-risk situation.8

In another independent study by the University of Washington that observed patients at Schick Shadel Hospital, patients that were treated with aversion therapy for alcoholism showed “statistically significant pre- to post-treatment reductions for wanting, liking, or craving alcohol.”9

The industry-leading success rate at Schick Shadel Hospital is unmatched. 12 months after treatment, 69% of patients are still sober because of aversion therapy treatment.9 In addition, Schick Shadel continues to support its patients after treatment by providing several support groups that can help people address the underlying reasons why they initially began to drink or use drugs.

 The Real Face of Aversion Therapy

Aside from the scholarly studies and research, the real answer for the increase of searches for the term “what is aversion therapy?” comes from the experience of previous patients of Schick Shadel Hospital.

The story of Chris from Alaska shows what aversion therapy really does for people. Before treatment, Chris was a heavy drinker – an eighteen pack a night was not uncommon. After looking into several programs, Schick Shadel seemed to be the right one for him. He entered the hospital as a drunk. Chris detoxed for three days and subsequently graduated from the 10-day aversion therapy treatment program. He left Schick Shadel and felt like he walked into a new world, free of his vice!

Since then, Chris has had zero cravings and no second thoughts. It’s like he never drank before and his life is normal. He even claims that treatment was the best thing he ever did! To read Chris’s full story and many others, CLICK HERE.



1 Rass, M. (2018). Alcoholism Rate In America: The Overlooked Epidemic. [online] Lakeview Health: Addiction Recovery and Treatment. Available at: https://www.lakeviewhealth.com/resources/addiction-articles/alcoholism-rate-in-america/ [Accessed 28 Nov. 2018].

2 2017 was the worst year ever for drug overdose deaths in America. (2018). Vox. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/8/16/17698204/opioid-epidemic-overdose-deaths-2017

3 Addiction Science. (2015). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/addiction-science

4 Centers, A. (2018). What Is the Success Rate of AA?. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/12-step/whats-the-success-rate-of-aa

5 Lane, C. (2018). Aversion therapy | Definition. Addiction.com. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.addiction.com/a-z/aversion-therapy/

6 Publishing, H. (2018). How addiction hijacks the brain – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain

7 Schick Shadel Hospital. (2018). Alcohol Rehab: Retrain Your Brain. [online] Available at: https://www.schickshadel.com/alcohol-rehab-retrain-your-brain/ [Accessed 29 Nov. 2018].

8 MO, H. (2018). Pharmacological aversion treatment of alcohol dependence. I. Production and prediction of conditioned alcohol aversion. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 29 November 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11506269

9 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

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