What is Behavior Modification Therapy?

Behavioral Modification Therapy focuses on helping a recovering addict achieve positive and better outcomes in their life. Behavioral modification therapy is closely tied to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is another widely used form of therapy for addiction.

However, behavioral modification therapy is different from other psychotherapies because it focuses on things that others don’t. Behavioral modification techniques are used during the process to help reduce negative behaviors and outcomes. 

During addiction treatment, a person’s behaviors and thought processes play a huge part in the recovery process. While going through the motions of detox and medication assistance are necessary, therapy is needed for long-term sobriety. When an addiction develops in a person, their way of thinking and acting is rewired negatively. This is where behavior modification therapy comes in. 

Like other types of therapy for addiction, behavior modification therapy is best used with other addiction treatment methods. While the road to recovery may seem rough, with the proper help and supportive team, a person can overcome their addiction. Centers like Sana Lake Recovery are here to help you break bad habits and focus on what matters in life. 

A Closer Look at Behavior Modification Therapy for Addiction

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As the name suggests, behavior modification therapy means altering or changing how a person behaves. Behavioral modification therapy uses a theory called operant conditioning – this means finding and understanding what makes a person behave the way they do. This therapy notes down the consequences of these behaviors and teaches a person behavior modification techniques in the process. 

Behavior modification therapy doesn’t focus strictly on a person’s thoughts or feelings but rather on the consequences that occur when the behavior happens. When someone has an addiction, they may continue using a drug even if it causes them pain and trouble in the long run. Behavior modification therapy looks at this closely and tries to reinforce a change in behavior through consequence. 

This type of therapy uses behavior modification techniques to reinforce positive/negative behavioral reinforcement. The goal is to effectively and slowly replace negative behaviors with positive ones – which creates room for more positive outcomes and behaviors. Behavioral modification therapy is a great addition to other treatment options and can help a person change their behavior and manage better consequences. 

Positive vs Negative Reinforcement in Behavioral Modification Therapy

One of the primary ideas behind behavior modification therapy is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. While these terms are usually used to describe parental or teaching techniques, it means something entirely different for behavior modification therapy. This therapy option focuses on trading in behaviors for more positive outcomes in a person’s daily life. This is done by focusing on the reasons why a person uses substances or alcohol, to begin with. 

While understanding and coming to terms with these negative actions can be difficult, it is crucial to overcoming addiction and encountering positive and healthy outcomes. Therapists and physicians work with the person to understand the triggers that cause these negative behaviors and outcomes.  When it comes to behavioral modification techniques and therapy, what is the difference between positive and negative reinforcement? 

Positive Reinforcement 

When it comes to behavioral modification therapy, positive reinforcement can mean several different things. Positive can be recognition, praise, or even a physical or tangible ‘reward’ of some kind. This positive reinforcement comes about after a person alters their behavior for the better and overcomes their triggers. This can be a great way to reinforce and encourage a person to make better choices in regards to their addiction recovery

In the case of addiction treatment, positive behaviors are mostly focused on staying sober and away from drugs. Using positive reinforcement and finding the truth behind a person’s addiction has been proven to be very effective during treatment. Offering a reward or even a compliment can make a big difference in someone’s journey. Positive reinforcement also has its natural rewards like a better and healthier life, free of drugs and alcohol. 

Negative Reinforcement

On the other hand, negative reinforcement is also used during the process of behavioral modification therapy. Many people may confuse negative reinforcement with punishment reinforcement (which involves decreasing a behavior for the desired effect).  In therapy, negative reinforcement comes in the form of removing a specific behavior to get the desired outcome. Simply put, negative reinforcement is focusing on changing behaviors to avoid a negative outcome. 

Ignore Negative Behavior

There is a third category when it comes to behavioral modification therapy and that is ignoring negative behavior. This is usually conducted with a group of people and focuses on completely ignoring behaviors that lead to negative consequences. The idea is that as long as a person ignores this negative behavior/the consequence, their desire to continue this behavior will fade away. Over time, this ends up causing more positive and desired effects for the individual. 

Behavioral Modification Techniques

behavior modification therapy

Each person’s case is different and thus there are several different techniques and methods available to overcome addiction with behavioral modification therapy. However, with this in mind, the main goal of this type of therapy is to identify and change a person’s behavior to achieve positive outcomes. A few behavioral modification techniques include the following.


As the name suggests, cueing is a reminder to perform a task/action at a specific time. Cues can also be negative in some cases (triggers to use again). Triggers and social cues can be especially tricky for those in recovery but with cueing a person can reduce these cravings. Cueing in behavioral modification therapy involves forcing these relapse triggers on purpose. Over time as a person continues to come across these cues, these cravings will begin to be less powerful and taunting. 


Modeling is a simple technique that involves learning and seeing how others cope with the same situation you’re in. This gives a person a different look at how others have succeeded in sobriety and recovery. Imitating others and learning new processes can be very beneficial in recovering from drug addiction. 

Fear Reduction and Avoidance

Fear reduction is especially useful in cases where a person is struggling with a phobia. Sometimes these phobias can end up being the cause of addiction. Whether it be social situations or other phobias, fear reduction exposes a person to what they fear. Doing this carefully and deliberately can help make these negative stimuli less impactful.

Avoidance on the other hand focuses on avoiding unpleasant and negative situations. With this in mind, avoidance may not be possible with all forms of addiction. Sometimes avoidance can be as simple as avoiding a stressful situation or location. 

Systematic Desensitization 

What is Behavior Modification Therapy?

Similar to fear reduction, systematic desensitization also works to combat a person’s phobias and fears. Systematic desensitization works by replacing an anxious response with a relaxation response. This is done in different phases, these include:

  • The first step is to relax one’s body, this is done through breathing and deep muscle techniques. Mediation is often used during the process to control breathing. Since phobias cause stress and tension, breathing exercises can help a person remain relaxed and in control.
  • The next step involves a type of fear hierarchy. Since there are different levels of stimuli (what the person fears), these phobias are slowly incorporated into the stages. As time progresses, more and more of the stimuli are utilized until a person is eventually shown what they fear most.
  • The third phase is the result after using this technique continuously for a period of time. In the case that a person feels the third phase is too much they always have the option to go down lower on the fear hierarchy list. 

When it comes to behavioral modification therapy for addiction, systematic desensitization helps address the fear that may have led to substance use in the beginning. Behavioral modification therapy can be a great option for those drinking due to social anxiety or other social fears. Controlling these fears and the person’s emotions can make it much easier to stay away from drugs and alcohol use.


Satiation is a behavioral modification technique that helps a person grow tired of undesired behavior. While this works for many cases, it is not the best option for addiction treatment because there are a lot of other factors to keep in mind during recovery. 

Behavioral Modification Therapy With Other Treatment Methods

Behavioral modification therapy is best when used with other treatment methods. This technique is often used with other behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and others. Behavioral modification techniques can be a great way to focus on consequences while using other behavioral therapies to improve your thoughts, behavior, and outlook. 

Start the Journey at Sana Lake

At Sana Lake, we offer many effective and evidence-based treatment options for you and your family. Our team uses several personalized therapy methods (including behavioral modification therapy) to ensure that you overcome addiction and stay sober for years to come. Don’t wait for things to get worse, give us a call today and get started on your journey towards a better, brighter life.