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Friday, May 12, 2017

Behavioral Modification for Treatment of Addiction

behavioral modification addiction treatmentBehavioral modification is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the reduction or elimination of unhealthy, destructive habits and behaviors, to be replaced by healthy and appropriate behaviors. Behavioral modification first made its appearance in psychotherapy in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the introduction of Ivan Pavlov’s work with dogs. In the course of his famous experiment, “Pavlov’s Dogs,” he discovered that the dogs could be conditioned to respond to a stimulus that wouldn’t normally elicit such a response. He paired a neutral or “unconditioned stimulus” (ringing a bell), to a “conditioned stimulus” (food), and found that after pairing these for a while, the conditioned stimulus (food) could be removed from the equation and the dogs would salivate after merely experiencing the unconditioned stimulus (ringing a bell). This became known as classic conditioning, and is found to not only apply to dogs, but humans as well. Just as Pavlov’s dogs were conditioned to respond to a stimulus, humans can be conditioned and shaped by our environments and the rewards within them. Behaviors that produce a reward become reinforced, while behaviors that do not produce a reward are often discontinued.

In behavioral modification, it is emphasized that just as people learn maladaptive, undesirable behaviors; they can unlearn these behaviors as well. This method of treatment has proven highly effective in the treatment of substance use, as well as with personality disorders, as these disorders are often characterized by maladaptive inner experiences and behaviors.

The following are techniques that can help accomplish the reduction or elimination of undesirable behaviors: aversive conditioning, modeling, extinction, and token economies. All of these techniques basically involve behavior being reinforced or eradicated.

Aversive Conditioning pairs the undesirable behavior (e.g. not following treatment guidelines) with an unpleasant stimulus (writing guidelines multiple times), with the goal being for the unpleasant stimulus to decrease or eliminate the undesirable behavior.


  • Modeling involves the watching and imitating of others, and explains why our environments so greatly contribute to behavior. In this technique, a client who would like to improve communication skills could do so by observing the communicative skills of therapist or more advanced peers. 

  • Extinction is a technique that involves completely removing any reinforcements from unwanted behavior. For example, when a person is acting out in attention-seeking behaviors, those behaviors are completely ignored. Once the behavior no longer elicits a reward or reinforcement, it eventually ceases or becomes extinct. 

  • Token economies involve positive reinforcement and rewarding positive behaviors with “tokens.” These tokens can be used to purchase a special treat or privilege, and promote learning that when behavior is appropriate, it is met with a reward and when behavior is not appropriate, there is no reward. 

  • Behavioral modification is a short-term therapy that aims to improve the quality of an individual’s life by the teaching adoption of new skills and confidence, and at the same time, the reduction of problematic behaviors. The techniques are very straightforward and easy to understand. As aforementioned, this type of therapy can prove highly beneficial to those with substance use and mental health disorders. 


Benefits of Behavioral Modification

One of the greatest benefits of behavior therapy is that it helps people to improve upon their quality of life. When a person gains confidence and begins to utilize newly acquired skills, they may implement that confidence to make other changes in their lives. For example, a person who has suffered debilitating social anxiety may develop confidence through the ability to communicate effectively and learn that they no longer need to drink or use drugs to have the confidence to engage with others. People who have experienced anxiety resulting from debilitating phobias can learn to overcome these fears without the use of “liquid courage.” The results can be truly life-changing. 

Behavioral modification can help people learn to reduce and manage unhealthy impulses, compulsive behaviors, and emotional outbursts. It can help improve upon current coping skills and adopt new ones. In addition, it can also teach people how to function better in social settings.

Compared to other types of psychotherapies, behavior modification is a relatively short-term, and therefore cost-effective treatment. Treatment goals can often be reached in as little as several weeks, rather than several months or a few years. The techniques and strategies used in behavior therapy are also fairly straightforward and easy for most clients to understand and learn, making it applicable to people from all backgrounds, with all education levels.

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