The Role of Behavioral Therapy in Addiction

Addiction Blog
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To help people avoid relapse or fight any intense craving for substance abuse, behavioral treatments are being used in treatment facilities like a sober living house. Behavioral therapies help people engage in their own addiction treatment by providing them incentives to remain sober, change their behavior towards substance abuse, and enhance their skills in handling or coping with situations that can trigger cravings and result in a relapse.

Regardless of the type, all behavioral therapies have one common goal – to stop addiction or substance abuse by modifying contingencies or “conditions under which a response produces a consequence” (European Journal of Behavioral Analysis, 2006, p. 111).  This can be done in 3 ways:

  • Rewarding behaviors not consistent with substance abuse
  • Removing or disabling triggers that can instigate substance abuse
  • Tying unpleasant or negative incidents with substance abuse

To better grasp the purpose behind behavioral therapy, here are some examples of the commonly used therapies in treatment centers or sober living homes:

 Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy


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The purpose of this therapy is to improve self-control. It involves specific strategies like looking at the good and bad consequences of continued substance use, self-monitoring to identify early signs of craving as well as high-risk situations that can trigger use, and formulating techniques to deal with or avoid high-risk situations and desire to use. Studies show that skills acquired through cognitive-behavioral therapy are well-instilled and remain in patients even after treatment is completed.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

MET uses techniques to induce an internally motivated and immediate change in patients instead of guiding them step-by-step through the entire healing or recovery process. This type of therapy involves an initial assessment battery session then 2 to 4 one-on-one treatment sessions with the therapist. The first treatment session involves the therapist providing comments on the results of the initial assessment, motivating discussion about the patient’s substance use, and drawing out self-motivational admissions from the patient. The succeeding sessions involve the therapist monitoring changes, reviewing strategies used, and promoting commitment to sobriety.

12-Step Facilitation Therapy

This type of behavioral therapy involves the active participation or engagement of the patient. It’s an approach used to instigate or increase a patient’s active involvement in groups using a 12-step self-help program that promotes sobriety or abstinence from substance abuse. This program involves 3 key aspects:

  1. Acceptance – realizing that addiction is a disease, that drugs or alcohol can make life difficult, that will power isn’t enough to overcome it, and that abstinence or sobriety is the only alternative solution
  2. Surrender – surrendering or giving one’s self up to a higher power, accepting support and companionship of other fellow patients, and abiding by the activities specified in the 12-step program
  3. Involvement – actively participating and attending in meetings and activities set by the program

These are just some of the behavioral therapies used in the treatment of addiction. Other types include Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT), Multisystemic Therapy (MST), Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), and more. Whatever the type of therapy, the goal remains the same: to treat addiction and instill abstinence and sobriety in a patient. It is important, however, to ask what kind of behavioral therapy is being used in a treatment facility like a sober living house and which will be the most applicable and ideal for a patient. The behavioral therapy used can dictate whether or not a treatment will be a success for a particular patient.

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