Aversion therapy is a form of psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort. This conditioning is intended to cause the patient to associate the stimulus with unpleasant sensations with the intention of quelling the targeted (sometimes compulsive) behavior.
Aversion therapies can take many forms, for example: placing unpleasant-tasting substances on the fingernails to discourage nail-chewing; pairing the use of an emetic with the experience of alcohol; or pairing behavior with electric shocks of mild to higher intensities.
Various forms of aversion therapy have been used in the treatment of addiction to alcohol and other drugs since 1932 (discussed in Principles of Addiction Medicine, Chapter 8, published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine in 2003).
An approach to the treatment of alcohol dependence that has been wrongly characterized as aversion therapy involves the use of disulfiram, a drug which is sometimes used as a second-line treatment under appropriate medical supervision. When a person drinks even a small amount of alcohol, disulfiram causes sensitivity involving highly unpleasant reactions, which can be clinically severe. Rather than as an actual aversion therapy, the nastiness of the disulfiram-alcohol reaction is deployed as a drinking deterrent for people receiving other forms of therapy who actively wish to be kept in a state of enforced sobriety (disulfiram is not administered to active drinkers).
It is unknown whether aversion therapy, in the form of rapid smoking (to provide an unpleasant stimulus), can help tobacco smokers overcome the urge to smoke.
In compulsive habits
Aversion therapy has been used in the context of subconscious or compulsive habits, such as chronic nailbiting, hair-pulling (trichotillomania), or skin-picking (commonly associated with forms of obsessive compulsive disorder as well as trichotillomania).
Pliny the Elder attempted to heal alcoholism in the first century Rome by putting putrid spiders in alcohol abusers' drinking glasses.
In popular culture
- In Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange and the film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick, the main character Alex is subjected to a fictional form of aversion therapy, called the "Ludovico technique", with the aim of stopping his violent behavior.
- In the episode "There's No Disgrace Like Home" from The Simpsons, the Simpsons family goes through shock aversion therapy in order to improve their overall behavior.
- In the TV show Lost, the episode "Not in Portland" featured a room named 'Room 23' where people were brainwashed with the Ludovico technique.
- In the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Cartman is exposed to this when an electronic chip is inserted into his brain, such that if he swears he’s punished by an electric shock.
- In the episode "Space Camp Was A Hoax" from Camp Camp, Max, Neil, and Nikki attempt to make Space Kid hate outer space by use of aversion therapy. The phrase "aversion therapy" is used in the episode to describe their actions.
- In the episode "I Am Anne Frank (Part 1)" of American Horror Story: Asylum, the character Lana Winters is subjected to aversion therapy. She is administered a substance that makes her vomit while simultaneously being shown suggestive photographs of women as a form of conversion therapy.
- "Disulfiram - FDA prescribing information, side effects and uses". Drugs.com. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
- Stokes, M; Abdijadid, S (January 2018). "Disulfiram". Stat Pearls. PMID 29083801.
- Brewer, C; Streel, E; Skinner, M (2017). "Supervised Disulfiram's Superior Effectiveness in Alcoholism Treatment: Ethical, Methodological, and Psychological Aspects". Alcohol and Alcoholism. 52 (2): 213–219. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agw093. PMID 28064151.
- Jerome J. Platt (2000). Cocaine Addiction: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Harvard University Press. pp. 241–. ISBN 978-0-674-00178-7.
- Hajek, P; Stead, LF (2004). "Aversive smoking for smoking cessation". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3): CD000546. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000546.pub2. PMID 15266433.
- Assessment and therapy : specialty articles from the Encyclopedia of mental health. Friedman, Howard S. (1st ed.). San Diego [Calif.]: Academic Press. 2001. ISBN 9780080527635. OCLC 171135237.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Geerling, Wayne (2018). "Choice, liberty and repression in A Clockwork Orange". In Charity-Joy Revere Acchiardo; Michelle Albert Vachris (ed.). Dystopia and Economics: A Guide to Surviving Everything from the Apocalypse to Zombies. Taylor & Francis. pp. 107ff. ISBN 978-1-351-68564-1.