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Why Are Behavioral Therapies Important in Addiction Treatment Programs?

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Combined biological, psychological, spiritual, and social influences create the backdrop of the person and who they were before and after becoming addicted to drugs.  They typically, find themselves unable to choose the positive over the negative or make the best decisions even when their health, relationships, and self-control begin to falter.

Abstinence is an ultimate goal in addiction treatment, but, in the end, what everyone hopes for is that the treatment will be effective and beneficial in helping them rebound from their negative states.  Behavioral therapies are important components of addiction treatment programs to help strengthen the capacity for making informed, positive, and healthy lifestyle choices with self-control over drug-seeking and behaviors.

Vary in Focus

While treatment focuses largely on ending or reducing the severity of the drug abuse and related problems, detox and abstinence are only part of the recovery picture.  Post-acute symptoms such as cravings and mood swings are often accompanied by low self-esteem, confusion, regret, resentment, and eventually, the lack of support, resources, and guidance for the manifested addiction consequences.

Behavioral therapies are guided by skilled and knowledgeable practitioners who know a lot about the similar traits of addiction and what is needed to enact change, to maintain significant and long-term abstinence, and to prevent relapse.  The scope of these therapies, according to the NIDA may involve:

  • addressing a patient’s motivation to change
  • providing incentives to stop taking drugs
  • building skills to resist drug use
  • replacing drug-using activities with constructive and rewarding activities
  • improving problem-solving skills
  • building better personal relationships

Different Approaches

Every person has a unique set of circumstances and conditions that require personalized attention.  In combination with counseling and other services to meet individual needs, behavioral therapies can produce the most positive outcomes in both addiction and mental health treatment programs.  Effectively, they provide the education, practice, and skill sets the addict will need to change their life while giving them alternative options to consider and motivating recovery efforts throughout the course of treatment.

According to the NIDA, “Group therapy helps patients face their drug abuse realistically, come to terms with its harmful consequences, and boost their motivation to stay drug free. Patients learn how to resolve their emotional and personal problems without abusing drugs.”  Along with individual and family sessions, therapies can be modified based on stages of recovery progression, client motivation, attitudes, goals, needs, and agreements between counselors and patients.

Types of Behavioral Therapies

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most frequently used types of behavioral therapy.  CBT is designed to help the person identify and change negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that can interact together compelling them toward drug abuse.  It is considered a rapid form of therapy that covers a broad range of issues in a few short weeks, but, ultimately, provides long-term recovery benefits.

Other forms of behavioral therapy that work well in addiction treatment programs are motivational enhancement therapies and contingency management.  Providing rewards or incentives for progressive recovery efforts such as a clean urinalysis or accomplishment of an assigned task has proven helpful in retaining patients in treatment and promoting a higher degree of engagement.  Behavioral therapies are also facilitated through 12-step programs, family behavioral therapy, adolescent behavioral therapy, and special therapies as needed.

Relapse and the Importance of Behavioral Therapies

Familiar scenes, people, and activities are still around once treatment is over and while friendships or “partying” seemed awesome for a while, a person with many drug use associations is likely to remain vulnerable to relapse for a long time.  Underdeveloped coping skills, lack of strategic plans and worthwhile goals, or simply the addiction to the addictive behaviors can make life outside of the treatment setting tremendously difficult.

According to the SAMHSA “Cues–any stimuli (substance-using friends, locations, paraphernalia, moods) repeatedly paired with substance use over the course of a client’s addiction–can become so strongly associated with the substance’s effects that the associated (conditioned) stimuli can later trigger arousal and an intense desire for the substance and lead to relapse.”  Without behavioral therapies to help motivate and instill change, the addict will most likely remain aligned with what they believed, valued, or became conditioned to, leading them back into the addiction scene.