Behavior Modification

There might be hundreds or even thousands of reasons people might cite when asked to defend their use of drugs. In general, however, most of these reasons concern a ratio of pleasure to pain. If taking drugs is, for that person, a pleasurable activity that brings about a smaller amount of pain, the use of substances might seem worthwhile or even beneficial. If, by contrast, the drug use seems to bring people hassles or pressure or pain, they might quickly stop.

If skewing the ratio of pleasure to pain is an effective way to help a person stop the use and abuse of drugs, behavior modification therapy might be a good treatment to provide to addicts. While this therapy can take many forms, all types of behavior modification attempt to make the use of drugs seem less rewarding, so people will be able to resist the temptation to use.

Why Choose Drugs?

It’s no secret that addictive drugs are pleasurable. When people take in these drugs, chemical values in the brain are amended and adjusted, and the person might quickly experience the sort of pleasure that seemed unusual or out of reach mere minutes before. The pleasure is rewarding, but in time, people might also develop a deep desire for drugs when they’re exposed to the sorts of sounds, smells or sights that they’ve come to associate with drugs.

These people might experience cravings when they encounter sounds such as:

  • Ice tinkling in a glass
  • A cork popping from a bottle
  • A razor blade tapping on a mirror, chopping drugs into tiny bits
  • The slap of a hand on the arm, as the vein is prepared for injections

These little triggers can work on the cells of the brain, reminding them of the pleasures that typically follow these sounds. Since this work is taking place on a subconscious level, it’s remarkably difficult to change. People may not even feel capable of articulating their cravings, but they may feel as though they simply must have drugs when the cravings are in play. They may feel as though they just have no choice.

Using Therapy to Break Links

Behavior modification strives to give people a sense of self-control and mastery, even when they’re presented with very strong triggers. Often, it’s very successful. For example, in a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers report that one-third of those given behavior modification therapy were drug-free in a two-year follow-up survey. Studies like this seem to suggest that behavior modification has the capacity to help people change their thoughts and actions regarding drugs, even if they felt those behaviors were fixed.

Therapy sessions can follow many different formats, but often, therapists encourage their clients to discuss their goals and dreams, and then think about how drug addiction either helps or hinders the achievement of those goals. These conversations aren’t combative or confrontational, but they are designed to get people thinking about their addictive patterns, and perhaps they’ll be less likely to use as a result. Therapists might also encourage clients to get sober for a short period of time and keep detailed records of how well they sleep, how much energy they have and how well they feel emotionally. Sometimes, this short break can remind people of the benefits of a life without drugs, and this might make the urge to use seem to fade.

Therapists might also encourage clients to think of drug use as a mistaken approach used to heal psychic pain. These people may be facing physical distress, difficult memories or some other serious problem, and they may feel as though drugs help them to soothe their distress and move forward with their lives. Unfortunately, the damage drug use can cause can make these underlying problems yet more pronounced. A therapist may help clients to understand this phenomenon, and a therapist might give clients yet more effective ways to handle the troubles they encounter in their day-to-day lives. With these new tools, clients may not even find drugs rewarding, as they may find that the new behaviors soothe distress much more effectively.

Changing the Family

Making drug use less rewarding might also involve the help of the family. These intimate family members may, inadvertently, augment the pleasure a person feels while on drugs as they might remove the pain a binge can cause. They might:

  • Call in sick for the person on the day after a binge
  • Stay quiet in the mornings, so the person can sleep in
  • Pay for drugs and alcohol, rather than making the person go without
  • Use drugs right alongside the person with the addiction

Families that participate in therapy may learn to identify the ways in which they’re keeping an addiction alive, and they may develop new habits that could allow the person to experience the negative consequences of addiction. Families might even change to such a degree that the person only feels rewarded and included when sober, making drugs even less enticing. In a study in the journal Addiction, researchers found that two-thirds of addicts made significant gains in controlling their behaviors when their families changed. It’s clear that this is an area in which behavior modification techniques can be put to good use.

Increasing Motivation

Therapy sessions can really help an addicted person to see the harm a drug addiction issue can cause, and therapy might even help the family to change in remarkable ways, but the sessions only work if people are encouraged to go. Once again, some people might choose to skip their treatment sessions, or they might choose to lapse back into drugs, simply because they find the instant pleasure of substances to be more rewarding than the long-term gains that might be made in therapy. Contingency management techniques might help to boost the therapy pleasure profile, as these techniques allow therapists to provide prizes to people who can produce urine tests that are free of drugs.

Prizes might also be provided to people who continue to go to their therapy sessions, day in and day out.

In a study of the efficacy of this kind of therapy, published in the journal Addiction, researchers found that prizes that total $240 were associated with higher levels of abstinence than no prizes at all. This seems to suggest that the monetary gains aren’t really associated with the success of programs like this. Instead, perhaps, the idea of winning a prize for doing something right is more important. It’s just a small reminder, but it seems to have the ability to help people to make big differences.

Medication Management

For those who just can’t seem to move past the pleasure that drugs can bring, medications may be a big help. For example, some people with mental health conditions may feel as though drugs rebalance their brain chemistry levels and allow them to feel a peace that eludes them at all other times. No matter how much these people might want to participate in therapy, they may be too incapacitated by their mental illnesses to really make big changes. Sometimes, medications can be a big help. Antidepressant medications, anti-anxiety medications and other psychotropic drugs can amend brain chemistry levels and bring people the sense of healing and focus that they need in order to participate in therapy. In time, people may not need these medications, but they can be vital in the early stages of healing, as they can break the link between relief and illicit drug use.

Similarly, there are some medications that can make drug use seem less appealing. The drug Antabuse, for example, can make sips of alcohol so unappealing that people feel physically ill. In a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, almost 60 percent of participants achieved a significant period of sobriety while on this medication. Unfortunately, medications like this only work if people take them, and again, people won’t take these medications unless they find them more rewarding than taking drugs. As a result, some people might not take their medications, and they might not receive any benefit at all.

Finding a Balance

Changing a behavior takes time, and often, healing is a very personalized process. Some people benefit from some kinds of treatments, while others need the help that only specific aspects of this kind of care can provide. The key is to work with a talented and qualified mental health team that’s willing to perform a detailed assessment and draw up a personalized care plan. That way, the person will get the right kind of help, and recovery might be just around the corner.

At Axis, we provide this personalized care. We work hard to ensure that we understand all the needs our clients bring to the table when they come to our facility for care, and the treatment plans we provide cater closely to those needs. We also tweak our treatment programs as needed, as people tend to change and grow during their time in our care. If you’d like to know more about the help we can provide, please call. We’re happy to help.