Do Behavioral Therapies Help Treat Drug Addiction?

The question or quandary that many people ask in regards to behavioral therapy and addiction is: “if drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, how would a behavioral therapy help treat a disease?

That is a good question; how does doing something different help treat a disease? Say you have heart disease; would behavioral therapy help treat the disease? It certainly would if the heart disease was due to poor diet and exercise. One could change their behaviors to eating more healthful and well balanced meals, exercising more and reducing stress to help lessen the negative effects on the heart, and possibly reverse some damage.

What if someone was born with type 1 diabetes? Aren’t they just destined to a life of testing and insulin shots? It is true that type 1 diabetes does need to be managed with insulin therapy, but to improve their quality of life and help manage the disease it is highly recommended that a person with type 1 diabetes (as well as type 2) pay close attention to their diet and exercise. Eating healthily and/or exercising are behaviors that a person can choose. They may need help with changing a behavior or creating a new one; this is where behavioral therapy can help with the change. Without the positive behaviors of a healthful diet and exercise a person with type 1 or 2 diabetes will lead a less than quality life.

Whether addiction is a disease or not, changing ones behaviors which starts with changing the neural pathways in the brain, AKA neuroplasticity, is extremely effective in helping treat addictions. Even if a person feels they were born with a predisposition to addiction, they can change how they think, feel and act in any situation that makes them want to reach for a substance that they feel will give them confidence, help numb some emotional pain, or otherwise seemingly make them “happy.”

In behaviors and habits there is typically a “cue” that elicits a thought, the thought elicits a routine or behavior which then produces a “reward.” Changing the cue can change the thoughts and behaviors. One will still produce a reward in the sequence, but it will not be the perceived reward of confidence or happiness through drugs, but a healthy reward of accomplishment or close relationships or even endorphins from exercise. It has been said: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” What destiny do you want?

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