The Power of Positive Reinforcement in Addiction TreatmentDylan Romero
Positive reinforcement motivates all of us, whether we realize it or not. From receiving good feedback at the office to thanking a spouse for work around the house, we respond well to this pattern of behavior and reward.
Substance use is a system of negative reinforcement; people may seek out drugs and alcohol to relieve boredom, soothe anxiety, or avoid thinking about difficult issues. Whatever the consequences, the substance in question is perceived to solve the problems of boredom, anxiety, and other concerns. Because negative stimuli is removed as a result of one’s behavior, this is considered to be negative reinforcement.
It makes sense that in order to overcome the cycle of substance use, we must substitute a new, opposite reward system. In the treatment of addiction, positive reinforcement can be a major step towards lasting recovery. Read on to understand why.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
It may be helpful to start by defining positive reinforcement.
Positive Reinforcement: The introduction of desirable, pleasant stimuli after a behavior. This stimulus reinforces the performed behavior, making it more likely that the action will be performed again.
This is a go-to method for working with everyone, including children, pets, and adults. Studies show that positive reinforcement has many benefits over other reward systems. In particular, we’ve seen it associated with changes in brain chemistry (which favorably affect long-term behavior), the development of character and motivation, and higher levels of self-esteem. All told, it builds confidence, whereas negative reinforcement results in frustration, anxiety, and anger.
There are several different types of reinforcers, and they all have a different place in the reward system we’ll discuss today.
- Natural reinforcers – occur directly as a result of one’s behavior. For example, becoming educated about the disease of addiction equips one to discuss it with friends and family.
- Token reinforcers – tokens rewarded for completing the task at hand, such as providing 20 extra credit points on a paper.
- Social reinforcers – the expression of approval for an action. An example is telling your child “Good job!” for emptying the dishwasher.
- Tangible reinforcers – physical rewards such as money or desired objects. Should be used with caution.
For the purposes of our discussion, we recommend relying primarily on social reinforcers. These cost nothing and have a major impact on your loved one, making their efforts feel noticed and supported.
It’s important to note that not everything nice constitutes enabling! While it can be difficult to balance your reactions to a loved one in recovery, you can still reward positive behaviors as appropriate – without becoming complicit in someone’s addiction. Stay connected with them, acknowledge their wins, and provide motivation rather than enabling.
These reinforcements are the most effective when they occur immediately after the behavior. The longer you wait, the less they strengthen the desired actions.
How Can I Build Up My Friend or Family Member?
Depending on the age of your loved one, a few different types of positive reinforcement may fit well into their treatment plan. For young adults and teens, try reacting positively when they help with household chores, complete assignments on time, speak respectfully, or respond quickly to your attempts to contact them.
When dealing with adults, praise them for seeking employment, attending therapy appointments, going to 12-Step meetings, and assisting others who may be struggling. Even if you believe these are things your loved one should be doing anyway, without expecting a reward, this type of encouragement can help to create lasting change.
You can choose to positively reinforce your friends and family members with any manner of responses. A hug, kind word, and smile are all quick ideas that can make a lasting impression. For larger milestones, consider spending quality time together doing an activity they enjoy or assisting them with their efforts. The action doesn’t have to be dramatic or cost money, although it can be nice to provide gift cards for new work clothes or other things in line with the behavior in question.
Addiction Recovery is Possible
If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, please reach out to Concise Recovery Center today. While it’s important to reward good behavior, at-home methods are not comparable to inpatient rehab services from highly qualified professionals. After treatment, our team of experts can work with you to positively reinforce the changes in your loved one. Call us at 888-978-5424 or submit a confidential contact form today.