Could you cure someone of alcoholism with immediate physical punishment if they drink?

Per this thread which describes a tragic, but fairly commonplace case of chronic alcoholism by the OP’s brother, I was wondering if you could effectively cure someone of alcoholism if you dried them out, then (assuming you have the financial resources and political latitude) assign a person to be with them 24/7 and taser them or smack them around if they try and drink, or do drink. And by “smack around” I mean a non-fatal, non-maiming, but rigorous beating that would quite probably leave bruises, or alternatively a tasering, possibly a multiple tasering.

The person would not interfere with them purchasing or taking the drink, but would move in shortly after it was consumed.

So, assuming you have the legal and financial wherewithal to do this, you take the alcoholic in hand, get them dried out and then punish them when it comes to drinking.
Is there a point where the alcohol and the punishment will be so linked that you will have effectively conditioned them out of being an alcoholic regardless of their chemical desire for alcohol?

Maybe… I honestly wish someone had tried that with me when I was a problem drinker… It might have worked.

It might also just make the drinker more stubborn, and create a mental association between drinking and rebellious freedom. This, I think, is in part why U.S. Prohibition failed. It made drinking seem like an act vindicating individual liberty.

Quitters, Inc by Stephen King. Same idea but with smoking.

If forcibly going cold turkey without medical monitoring and support doesn’t kill them outright, sure, then it’s possible some kind of aversion therapy would work. I couldn’t say whether its success rate would be higher or lower than any other.

Speaking as a behavior therapist: maybe.

To start with, you’d have more success tasering/shocking them right before or as they were drinking alcohol, rather than after. This is called respondent conditioning, and would cause the person to associate pain with the act of drinking itself.

Shocking them after they had already consumed the drink would be punishment (operant conditioning). The problem with punishment is that you can expect to see behavioral contrast. The person will reduce the behavior of drinking when they are aware the punishment contingency is in place (i.e. when they see a person following them around with a taser), but correspondingly increase their levels of drinking when they know the contingency is not in place (i.e. they will start guzzling vodka from a hidden flask while in the bathroom).

This proposal is to create an extremely unpleasant association with the consumption of alcohol, and that is essentially the same thing as what Antabus does. A person who is on Antabus will experience a kind of physical punishment if they ingest alcohol.

So you might want to survey the literature to see if anyone has been cured of alcoholism by using Antabus.

From the article: “Disulfiram does not reduce alcohol cravings, and therefore a major problem associated with this drug is extremely poor compliance. A classic study by Fuller et al (1986) that followed chronic alcoholics for a period of 1 year found no statistically significant differences in abstinence rates between the group that received 250 mg/day of disulfiram and the group that only received counseling. The reason for this finding was that only 20% of subjects in disulfiram group were estimated to be in good compliance with the drug regimen.”

The problem with this method is that essentially you would be asking a person to administer the punishment to himself, which is obviously unreliable.

What you could do with this drug is create an indiscriminable contingency, which the patient would not know if the drug being administered to him by a third party was a placebo or Disulfiram. Gradually, you could thin the schedule of the actual drug until it was entirely placebo. However, this still requires the compliance of the subject and a third party willing to regularly administer the drug.

Made into the first segment of the film Cat’s Eye. With James Woods as the smoker.

This plan may work if: said punisher doesn’t sleep or go to the bathroom, and doesn’t have a job. In other words, the fear only works if its for immediate punishment. It’s also why some cats will eat the food on the counter if you leave the room and they think you’re not coming back soon.

But honestly, I don’t believe in a lot of AA’s rhetoric, but it is possible that at least some alcoholics are aware of the negative consequences (beatings or not) but literally cannot stop through free will alone.

Even if it did work, it wouldn’t cure the addiction.

AA talks about “dry drunks”, people who know longer drink alcohol but replace it with some other thing or activity - smoking, gambling, Jesus, shopping, sleeping around, or being an asshole all the time.

Maybe it might be satisfying for the punisher, if they’d had to put up with addictive behavior from someone else, but it seems a distasteful and eventually self-defeating approach.

Well, the question was more rhetorical, than anything. You just don’t give the subject any choice. The OP’s scenario assumes that you could somehow compel someone to be in the custody of the beater 24 hours a day. (And yet that the person would still be allowed to procure alcohol.) If you could compel someone to live under these conditions, then you could in theory compel them to take disulfiram, as well. Once that has been secured, the situation would be analogous.

The person who refuses to take Antabus (or who stops taking it) is like a person in the OP’s scenario escaping from the beater to go drink.

Yeah, I know. I was just trying to devise a realistic situation in which a punishment method could work for curing alchoholism.

This is pretty much what Antabuse is all about.
Use your resources to assure that the subject takes the daily dose.

Pretty unpleasant immediate negative feedback if you ask me.

ETA: See now that someone brought this up already. That’s what I get for posting while watching a movie.

It’s only going to work while the punishment is there. Once left alone, a person who’s only motivation to quit drinking is to avoid physical pain is going to start again when that pain goes away. And if the pain is not that great, it won’t be a deterent to drinking anyway. I’ve seen people drink themselves to death. The threat of death wasn’t sufficient to stop them.

Back when the government forced me into an anti-alcohol program, many of the others were on a drug – not sure if it was Antabuse or not. I’ll just say that soldiers are resilient, and most of them didn’t get better. I’ll also say, wow, those guys that were on it had really screwed up stories, and I feel bad that it didn’t help them.


You can’t change someone’s desires with punishment.

Actually–horrible coincidence: a friend of mine drank himself to death yesterday. (He used to rent a room in our house.) His new roommate found him in his room in their apartment about 1:30pm. He’d stopped drinking when he lived with us, but started again a few months after.

You know, for him life during these last months actively alcoholic was more punishment than any beating–he described his existence as the worst living hell imaginable. Drinking no longer gave him any pleasure, and still he couldn’t stop.