Behavior Therapy

Humans Can Change Their Behavior

Behavior therapy is based on the idea that maladaptive behaviors can be eliminated by the adoption of new healthier behaviors. One important idea is that the individual will choose to do things based on past consequences of their actions. In other words they have learnt to behave in a certain way; if this is the case then they will be able to unlearn negative behaviors.

If past experience of doing something led to a positive outcome, the individual will be more likely to do it again in the future. This explains why people begin abusing substances; once they associate alcohol or drugs with reward they will have an increasing desire to abuse again in the future. Reward and punishment can be used as tools to encourage people to adopt healthier behaviors. It has led to techniques such as aversion therapy and token economy.

The Goals of Behavior Therapy to Treat Addiction

The goals of behavior therapy for treating addiction are:

* Modify behavior in relation to substance abuse
* Improve skills for healthy living
* Modify attitudes towards alcohol and drug abuse
* Help the individual get more from rehab and other treatments
* Encourage people to stay in treatment longer
* To enhance the effects of medications

Types of Behavior Therapy Used to Treat Addiction

There are a variety of different behavior therapies that can help individuals dealing with addiction including:

* Overt sensitization involves pairing maladaptive behavior with undesirable consequences. A good example of this would be the drug Antabuse which is given to alcoholics to encourage them to stop drinking. If they touch alcohol while taking this drug it will make them very sick. Electrical shocks can also be used and this method may involve less risk than Antabuse.
* Covert sensitization is another type of aversion therapy. Here there is no attempt to pair an actual negative consequence with the behavior, but instead the individual just mentally pictures a negative consequence.
* Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy works by helping the client understand their thoughts and emotions. The individual learns that while they might not always be able to control what happens in the outside world, they will be able to control their thoughts and feelings about it.
* A token economy is where the individual receives rewards for good behavior. This is usually in the form of tokens which they can later exchange for items or privileges.
* Motivational interviewing involves challenging and encouraging the addict to take action to change their behavior. The client is encouraged to gain a deeper understanding of their addiction, and the means by which they can escape.

Behavior Therapy Techniques

There are a variety of techniques that the behavior therapist can use. These activities can increase the client’s understanding of their present circumstances and encourage them to adapt new behaviors. Useful behavior therapy techniques include:

* Role playing allows the client to improve their understanding of social interactions and alter their behavior in response to this. A good example of this would be using role play to develop drink refusal skills.
* Behavior modification is where the client receives a reward for desirable behavior.
* Self-monitoring is where the individual details their actions in a journal throughout the day. This journal is then usually shared with the therapist. A good example of this would be the client who is asked to record how much they are drinking.
* Scheduling of activities involves the client agreeing to take part in certain activities before the next session. These activities will be of a positive nature where the individual will be encouraged to change their normal behaviors.
* Behavior contracts is where the individual signs a contract not to engage in the undesirable activity again. If they break the contract there will usually be consequences attached to this. There can also be incentives for sticking to the terms of the contract.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In recent years there has been increasing interest in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a means to help clients escape addiction. It is a type of talking therapy where the emphasis is on empowering the individual to take charge of their own thoughts and feelings. Many of the problems the individual will experience will be due to faulty thinking or belief about themselves or others. A good example of this would be the individual who thinks they are unlovable. Such negative thinking can lead people into addiction.

By examining thoughts and feelings more closely the client, with the help of the therapist, is able to understand themselves a lot better. One of the advantages of CBT is that it can lead to breakthroughs in a relatively short period of time – although this is not always the case. During the treatment the client is encouraged to examine those thoughts that are leading them to engage in substance abuse. Once they see that their flawed thinking has been the source of much of their problems they will find it a lot easier to break away from addiction.

Pros and Cons of Behavior Therapy as an Addiction Treatment

While behavior therapy can be highly effective, it is probably not going to work for everyone. Some individuals may lack the insight to be able to benefit from CBT. Techniques such as self-monitoring require a high degree of self-honesty and many individuals struggle with this. There is also the worry that aversion therapy may prove harmful, in particular, overt techniques that produce vomiting or involve electrical shocks. Antabuse can lead to death if the individual has consumed too much alcohol.

There is no doubt that behavior therapies can help the individual beat their addiction. This is why such techniques have been widely adapted in rehabs and other treatment programs. CBT receives a lot of praise for its ability to get the individual to take charge of their own life. Such empowerment can not only help them escape addiction, but to also build a successful life in recovery.

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