Basic Behavior Modification

Behavior modification simply denotes an approach to treatment that is based on mental conditioning. It entails encouraging positive behavior through incentives and discouraging negative ones through disciplinary measures. This treatment technique has widely gained acceptance in psychology where children who exhibit negative behavior are conditioned to abandon such behavior and embrace socially acceptable behavior. In this paper, methods of behavioral change are examined with regards to living a drug-free lifestyle. The paper investigates the specific steps that can be taken to help individuals cease substance abuse and adopt a drug-free lifestyle. In addition, it elucidates how behavioral modification principles can be gainfully applied to chronic drug abusers. Finally, the paper will enumerate the principles that are likely to give the best result for such individuals.

Research on Background

Cessation of substance abuse can be hastened by imposing stiff punitive measures on the abuser and giving incentives for the period that he or she abstains. This is the basis of drug abuse cessation therapies. For example, alcoholics given disufiram drug will quickly start to dislike alcohol because it causes them to experience bad symptoms. Disufiram prevents complete metabolism of alcohol such that it accumulates in the system as formaldehyde. It is formaldehyde that is responsible for hangovers and thus, alcoholics experience hangovers for a very long time. In addition, the drug causes them to experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that are usually painful. In effect, the good feelings that always come with consumption of alcohol are eliminated and effectively replaced with undesirable side effects. This is a typical example of substance abuse treatment program. The unpleasant experiences are used to discourage negative behavior of excessive alcoholism.

There are several principles of psychology that can be used to achieve behavioral change. Among them is systematic desensitization that is applied to eliminate fears as well as undesirable emotions. For example, a person who has phobia for speaking in public can be taken through a gradual process of behavioral change. This would start by making him or her speak before a small group of people that the person is well familiar with. Later on, he or she should be introduced to a larger group of strangers. Although the outcome would not be immediate, the person would slowly learn to be more confident talking in an increasing number of individuals. In the end, one would build more confidence such that when he or she eventually encounters a conference of strangers there will not be any stage freight. There is also the principle of extinction whereby a behavior is either linked to events that take place before or after the particular action is carried out. It basically works by using the aftermath of the action to communicate directly about the perception that people would have on their actions. For example, when a child fails in exams and he or she is not given any presents, the reality that failure is not desirable would set it. The child will begin to imagine that had he or she worked a little harder, there would have been an offer of a present. Conversely, the message can be reinstated by giving them present every time they do well in class. This way, they are left with no doubt as to what the society expects of them. In addition, they get a feeling that things would not be rosy for them in life if they don’t work hard enough in whatever they do. Thus, they are indirectly made to modify their behavior from that which made them fail to better behavior that would allow them to perform well in their class work (International Labour Office International Labour Office 2003).

Good behavior is learnt through conditioning of human behavior, also called the principle of operant conditioning. In this principle, positive behavior is supposed to get reinforcement as soon as they are noticed. Conversely, negative behaviors should be discouraged at the earliest time possible so that they are inculcated into one’s normal behavior. Punitive measures should be imposed on the culprits to caution them against repeating such behavior in the future. As for children, it is important to let them know what they did wrong and give them punishment that is realistic and corrective rather than punitive. On the other hand, rewards should be given to people who show positive behavior or to those who are slowly dropping certain aspects of bad behavior. This would be in recognition of the fact that behavioral change is a slow process that needs to be nurtured. Essentially, this principle focuses on motivating people to act in a desired manner (William  2002). According to literature, the principle of operant conditioning has been successfully applied in bringing up good families. In this case, parents act as good role models to their children by showing positive behavior so that children grow up accustomed to doing good things.

Ideas for Behavioral Modification

The fundamental idea about behavioral modification is consistency and patience. While one may wish to get immediate results from the process, this will never be the case because human behavior is learnt and therefore has to be gradually unlearnt by constantly reminding the concerned persons of what is sociologically right. In order to help one to achieve behavioral change, focus should be placed on the positive things rather than negative ones. In fact, it is better to ignore certain negative aspects, especially when it is what the person is recovering from. This would encourage them considering that it would be a perfect show that the world is not judging them harshly and that the society understands what they are going through. Indeed, it would significantly be demoralizing to learn that the extreme sacrifices that you make are not appreciated.  

In setting one’s goals for self-improvement, the targets should not be too difficult to achieve. Instead, the process should start with simple things just to help the concerned person appreciate the need to adopt bad behavior. With time, they should be introduced to more complicated aspects so that the process does not become too demanding for them or simply unrealistic to achieve. In addition, a habit of promptly making corrections where one goes wrong should be adopted. This is because if left for a later date, one may develop the feeling that his or her behavior is being criticized out of some vendetta. The other important idea is consistency because when this is lost, one may lose track of the past behavioral modifications and go back to his or her old ways. According to literature, there are circumstances in life where it is difficult to distinguish between what is evil or virtuous (Walter 1991). This is why a constant reminder is necessary to ensure that people do not veer off the track of behavioral change. Finally, there is need to follow up on the actions of persons undergoing behavioral change. For example, smokers should be assessed to ascertain the number of cigars they use per day. This will help in gauging if indeed the therapy is helping them out.

In conclusion, behavioral change is a slow process that can be pursued by people who want to live a drug-free lifestyle. However, this should follow a certain set of principles that have been shown to be very effective. In addition, due patience should be adopted considering that behavior has to be unlearned in as much as it is learned.

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