Changing Addiction Behaviors and How Treatment Helps

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Addicts become very adept in their abilities to obtain and use drugs.  They learn who they can challenge through deception or manipulation to get the money or resources to use along with when, where, and how are the best options to be able to “score” drugs and use them.

Guiding the behaviors are complex interplays of biological, environmental, and social influences that either serve to protect from or to increase risk vulnerabilities and addiction severities.

According to the University of Delaware, “Drugs disrupt the careful modulation of feelings and motivations that underlie normal behavior.”

Without appropriate treatment and support, most addicts will rearrange their lives in support of daily intoxications and the avoidance of withdrawals and will never experience a recovery that allows them to live a healthy, self-directed, productive, and satisfying lifestyle.

About Addiction Behaviors

Every addict has their own way of maintaining their addiction with behaviors that become part of a system involving both operant and conditioned responses.  Some of these behaviors are controllable, albeit more difficult, over time, and others are innate conditions that lead to compulsive behaviors without any conscious decisions to do so.

The National Institutes of Health describes the changes in brain circuitry as result of drug abuse as going” beyond the brain’s reward system to include regions involved in memory, learning, impulse control, stress reactivity, and more.”

As a result of associations with the effects of the drugs, the withdrawals, and their individual experiences, addicts learn how to avoid threats to their ongoing use, despite the consequences.

For most, they have no idea dramatic changes have taken place, but, when their most promising values, beliefs, and relationships begin to slip away in the process, the consequential pains often lead them further into the drug abuse.

At this point, they need little confirmation from others in the form of condemnation or demands to stop, but, rather the hope that things can change.

Treatment Basics

Treatment is available in a wide range of settings and the best treatments come in the form of approaches that focus on the strengths of the addict rather than solely on their weaknesses.  According to the SAMHSA, “controlled clinical trials place confrontational approaches among the least effective treatment methods.”

Behavioral health is a primary focus of treatment success, but, it is also a counselor’s task to help addicts find a healthy balance in their lives physically, psychologically, and socially as well as detoxing from the drugs.

Most addiction treatment programs integrate counseling, behavioral therapies, and peer support groups to enhance recovery and motivations to change.

Optimizing treatment outcomes must also involve a secondary part of the treatment process that addresses problematic areas where improvements in lifestyle are necessary to maintain significant time in abstinence and sustain recovery motivations.

These elements may include medical or psychiatric interventions (including medications) to improve overall health and a variety of resources or access to agencies that help improve social functioning such as in areas involving family, faith, legal, housing, safety, employment, or financial needs.

Support and Guidance

Trained therapists can help addicts identify and replace problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with those that that have a positive effect on self-concepts, decision-making, goal-setting, values, and strengths.

Motivations to change can come from within or from external influences including family and community involvements.  According to the SAMHSA, “It involves recognizing a problem, searching for a way to change, and then beginning and sticking with that change strategy.”

Progress and benefits are revealed when counselors and addicts create relationships where, more than instructing or dispensing advice, the counselor helps the addict feel confident to change problematic behaviors to positive ones that are in their best interest.

Group counseling has some advantages including reducing isolation and providing feedback from others going through similar circumstances and trying to recover.

Therapies that Help Change Addiction Behaviors

Helping addicts identify and change problematic behaviors, assisting them with developing control over their urges to use, and preventing a return to drug abuse is highly personalized and can be extremely complex.  Behavioral therapies are loaded with educational and coping strategies that can help addicts learn ways to avoid drugs and other “triggers” that may lead to relapse.

“Relearning” how to respond in the face of temptations when everyday and common exposures can trigger cravings, stress, and other negative conditions takes practice, but, it can be done and must be.

Some common behavioral therapies are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) CBT helps patients to recognize, avoid, and cope with thoughts and situations that act as “triggers” through awareness and positive management skills.

Contingency Management uses positive reinforcements to encourage abstinence from drugs.  Rewarding behaviors for the achievement of short term goals such as a clean urinalysis has proven to have beneficial impacts in treatment retentions, participation, and recovery motivations.