Does Aversion Therapy Really Work? – Dr. Lisa Ortigara Crego

Does Aversion Therapy Really Work?

We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then,

is not an act, but a habit.

~Aristotle

 Did you know if you simultaneously get the flu while eating your favorite food you might develop an aversion to it? Imagine, you sit down to a ginormous bowl of chocolate ice cream, richly slathered in caramel, with a sprinkle of crushed nuts, and brownie chunks. There you are, in a zombie-like trance, while inhaling the entire bowl…and then wham, simultaneously you’re hit with the flu that’s going around town. Hugging the cold rim of the frosty wet toilet base, while emptying your entire fill of the once-thought delicious goo, and BAM…Aversion sets in!

Who wouldn’t be permanently turned off from a bowl of ice cream filled with all the decadent goodies if upchucked in the basin accompanied with severe stomach cramps and blazing headache? You don’t have to imagine such a gruesome scenario, but I can assure you this type of “home-grown” aversion therapy works, but I wouldn’t advise it. For sure catching a flu bug to build an aversion to a certain food is no picnic…but with that said, I do want to explore the topic of aversion therapy.

But First A  Word On Bulimia

Aversion therapy and bulimia do not even belong in the same thought…they are VERY DIFFERENT SITUATIONS. I would only use aversion therapy on a binge eater who keeps food, not one who purges through vomiting. Working with many different eating disorders there are different treatment modalities, given each unique situation…..

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy, professionally administered, is followed in some treatment centers as part of their treatment model. Mel Collinson, a college instructor, now turned writer, found during her teaching days in order to cope with stress she began to drink, until that got out of hand, which is when she reached for therapy to help herself. Aversion therapy worked for Mel in a rehabilitation center run by medical team professionals. As a guest blogger on my blog, she states, “Like the article I can’t actually smell alcohol now without feeling sickly!” Mel  shared her essay below:        

Aversion Therapy, Alcoholism, And Weight Loss

The reasons why individuals abuse drugs, alcohol or food, are as mysterious as they are varied. Scientists currently point to a plethora of reasons for addiction (including genetic, psychological and physiological factors), and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all solution’ to end the problem. These days, weight loss centers and drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers alike often utilize groundbreaking methods (such as ‘harm reduction’, where the aim is to reduce the amount of drugs or alcohol consumed) and ‘aversion therapy (in which an individual is conditioned to experience unpleasant stimuli in association with indulging in their addiction).

Aversion therapy can take various forms. When used in alcohol rehabilitation, for instance, a particular drug (disulfiram) might be administered to the person recovering; this drug interferes with the body’s ability to turn acetaldehyde into acetic acid. Acetaldehyde is toxic to the body and when present at high levels, it causes a range of unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, headaches, anxiety, stomach upset, and vomiting. In time, mind and body associate alcohol with these symptoms, leading to cessation of the habit.

Aversion therapy is a moderately successful therapy for alcohol/drug addiction. Moreover, a famous study carried out in 1971 showed that aversive conditioning (in which favorite foods were paired with noxious odors) helped people lose a significant amount of weight, compared with a control group.

Aversion therapy taps into the basic principle that human beings will not pursue an action that causes displeasure and/or feelings of illness. Ex-alcoholic, Jo Harvey, explains why quitting an addictive habit (like alcoholism or overeating) can be so difficult: In many ways, the subject of addiction is ‘fulfilling’ some hidden need: “It’s hard to imagine how someone can simultaneously be killed and saved by the same substance. I needed the moments… where I could momentarily escape the painful reality which had become my life.”

For many, alcohol, drugs and food are a ‘safe’ escape from pain and loneliness.

Aversion therapy should always be imparted by trained professionals, especially in the case of addiction to alcohol or drugs. Inpatient treatment usually involves the provocation of nausea, alternated with counseling sessions and, sometimes, the administration of medication.

Most recovering addicts find it comforting to be in the company of others who are undergoing the same difficult process of letting go of the crutch they’ve used to get by.

Aversion therapy is not widely used for weight loss these days, though many of its tenets can be used successfully as part of a sensible weight loss program. For one, this therapy shows us that the feelings we associate with food are of primary importance and that we should be more mindful of what we eat and when, paying attention to the feelings that trigger bingeing and overeating. It also encourages us to stop associating food with rewards, to cease the rituals that make us approach food as a substitute for love, company, and safety. Ultimately, overeating can cause many of the same problems as alcohol and drugs and its dangers should not be overlooked.

  As you can see by Mel’s essay, aversion therapy is live and well in many facilities. I’ve worked with patients first-hand who were discharged in South Florida from Schick Shadel, a treatment center for alcoholism…and it seemed to work in controlling their alcohol addiction. I personally used aversion therapy successfully many,many times through hypnosis  with patients, and it does “stick,” and the interest in a particular food is diminished.

I find with many addictions blending psychotherapy with hypnotherapy, and a dusting of aversion therapy,  produces great outcomes.

My first recollection of  “home version” aversion was when I was a small child of six years old. My mother was barely twenty seven years old when she took sick with rheumatic fever and had to parcel out her six children to different homes while she was in the hospital. I ended up at our  neighbor Mrs. B’s daughter’s home, which was attached to a nursery school in her upstairs loft.

Needless to say the conditions were ripe for me to pick up germs as little toddlers with snotty noses and coughs were abundant. I got sick. scalloped potatoes and averision Very sick. I was purging from both orifices…it was shortly after I had eaten scalloped potatoes. I can tell you to this day…nearly 50 years later I will not touch this dish, even if it was the last food on the planet to sustain my life.

Yes, aversion therapy works…whether with a drug, chemo therapy, a thought, or an illness such as the flu combined with the food (alcohol, habit, etc.) of desire. Similar to Acetaldehyde, which is toxic to the body when present at high levels, causing a range of unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, headaches, anxiety, stomach upset, and vomiting so can a craved food or drink combined with the flu or some type of illness dulling the want or desire.

If you want to end your addiction to food, alcohol, or any other behavior you may want to check out aversion therapy. I’m sure you too might not be interested in warding off the ginormous bowl of chocolate goo, richly slathered in caramel, with a sprinkle of crushed nuts and brownie chunks, because you caught the bug. Why wait for the chance to get hit with a flu bug that’s going on around town to avert your behavior!

As noted, I experienced such aversion as a young child, who now still can’t touch scalloped potatoes, or even think about going near it without feeling ill, just as Mel can’t think of alcohol with out feeling sickly. So I say, who wouldn’t be permanently turned off from a bowl of ice cream filled with all the decadent goodies if upchucked in the basin while severely sick with the flu? Or any matched aversion treatment. You don’t have to imagine such a gruesome scenario but I can assure you this a type of “home-grown” aversion therapy works.

Have you every experienced aversion therapy? What about catching a flu-bug after eating a decadent meal or sugary treat and now you can’t touch the once enjoyed treat? Please share your experience? All you need to do is scroll all the way down to the comments box. I’d love to hear from you, and learn from you.

If you want to know more don’t hesitate to pop an email to [email protected], I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have…

 

Stay tuned, you never know where my mind will wander.
 
Hugs to you, I care!
Dr. Lisa
 
 
 
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About the Author Lisa Ortigara Crego

Speaker, writer, licensed clinical psychotherapist, PhD in addiction psychology, eating disorder professional, hypnotherapist changing the view about compulsive eating one addict at a time.

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