What Is Behavior Modification Therapy? Everything to Know


Over one-third of people with alcohol addictions can permanently recover. 

If you or your loved one struggle with addictions, there is hope for a successful, permanent recovery. 

While there’s no single treatment that guarantees recovery, successful sobriety means using a variety of interventions to meet your unique needs. Behavior modification therapy is one helpful intervention that can be the keystone to your recovery process.

Whether you’re just beginning to look at your options for therapy or you’ve already started your sober life, keep reading. You’ll learn how behavior modification works, how it can help you recover, and our tops tips on making it part of your recovery journey.

What Is Behavior Modification?

Behavior modification is a type of therapeutic intervention with the goal of reducing maladaptive behaviors. While some therapies focus on changing a person’s thought patterns to help them overcome addiction, behavior modification targets the way that people act.  

Early psychologists like Pavlov and B. F. Skinner pioneered behavior modification theory. In a famous experiment, Pavlov discovered that he could influence dogs’ behavior by using a trigger. Every time he rang a bell, he gave the dogs a treat, until their mouths began to water whenever they heard the bell. 

This experiment showed that we can build behavioral habits by using cues and rewards.

Behavioral Triggers in Our Lives

Similar to Pavlov’s experiment, our lives are full of cues that trigger us to certain behaviors.

Some behavioral cues are healthy. For instance, if you go for a run every morning, you will start to associate the sound of your alarm clock with the healthy behavior of going for a run.

As you continue to build your habit, that alarm sound will be a trigger: when you hear it, you’ll feel ready to jump out of bed and put on your track shoes.

Behavioral Triggers and Addictions

However, some behavioral habits are unhealthy. For someone living with an addiction, their routines and habits are likely built around maladaptive, addictive behaviors. When you encounter those cues in recovery, they will trigger you to want to reach for your addiction.

Some common behavioral triggers for addiction include:

  • Going to a familiar location where you used to engage in your addiction
  • Being around people who you associate with your addiction
  • Feeling stressed, angry, lonely, or upset
  • Times in your daily routine when you engage in your addiction, such as first thing in the morning, coffee break time, or coming home from work

How Does Behavior Modification Work? 

In addiction, you develop behavioral habits that keep you linked to your substance use. But when you’re ready to recover, you can start developing new habits that help you break free of those triggers and behaviors.

That’s where behavior modification comes in. This type of therapy helps rewrite your behavioral triggers so that you can replace maladaptive habits with healthy ones.

Types of Behavioral Modification Interventions

Behavioral interventions fall into two categories: reinforcements and punishments.

The word “punishment” can be intimidating. But it doesn’t mean inflicting pain or shame on yourself. It just means helping your brain break its habits and form new ones. 


A reinforcement means that you are rewarding yourself for doing the target behavior. Positive reinforcements help you form good associations with the target behavior so that you are more likely to do it again in the future.

Some examples of reinforcements include using a reward system where you reward yourself every time you do the target behavior. For instance, when you attend recovery meetings every day for a week, you can watch a few episodes of your favorite show.

Token economy is another type of reward system. Every time you do the target behavior, you get a token. When you have accumulated a certain number of tokens, you can exchange them for a privilege or treat. This intervention works well in the context of inpatient recovery. 

Sometimes, all the reinforcement you need is to hear is some encouragement. That’s where verbal praise comes in. Ask your family, therapist, or therapy group to say “well done!” when you’ve achieved your target behaviors. 


On the other hand, a punishment is an unpleasant stimulus that you use when you do the behavior that you want to avoid. It helps create a bad association with that behavior so that you are less likely to do it again.

A good accountability partner won’t judge you, but admitting your slip-ups to another person is still unpleasant. This negative association will help you stay motivated to avoid that behavior next time.

Some medications for alcohol recovery are “drinking deterrents,” and cause a severe physical reaction if the patient drinks alcohol. This helps the person form a negative association with drinking so that they are less inclined to drink in the future. You should only take medications for recovery as prescribed by a doctor and as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

When in doubt, ask your therapist or recovery specialist about what behavioral interventions are appropriate to help you recover. 

Benefits of Behavior Modification Therapy

Behavior modification therapy has lots of benefits that make it an important part of your recovery plan.

While other types of therapy can take years to see results, you can reach behavior modification goals in just a few weeks.

It’s also easy to understand and carry out. You do not need special medication or equipment to get the benefits of behavior modification. This helps make it affordable for everyone.

Finally, it’s effective in many areas of life. Behavior modification therapy builds coping mechanisms that you can use in relationships, work, and other areas.

Find the Right Recovery for You

Overcoming addictive habits can seem overwhelming. But with behavior modification therapy in the context of a supportive treatment plan, it is possible. 

Laguna Shores Behavioral Health offers detox, rehab, and long-term inpatient and outpatient care. With individualized treatment plans, they offer an opportunity for people with all kinds of addictions issues to successfully overcome their addiction.

Are you ready to get real about your recovery? Get in touch to start your recovery journey with us.