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Addictions

Contingency Management

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

Contingency management (CM) is a type of behavior therapy often used in addiction treatment programs (Tuten, Jones, Schaeffer & Stitzer, 2011). The developers of CM based it on the principles of operant conditioning. In this type of treatment, individuals are rewarded for improved behavior. Some contingency management programs also punish participants for undesirable behaviors. Rewards often come in the form of vouchers for free goods or services. A voucher might be a free movie ticket, for example. Research shows that contingency management can be an effective approach to addiction treatment for people with limited financial resources. Clearly, in order for rewards to be motivating, the reward must be in fact be rewarding. For example, if someone doesn't enjoy movies then a movie ticket will not sufficiently motivate someone to change their behavior. The effectiveness of contingency management tends to fade after the rewards (and punishments) are taken away. Most individuals need to strengthen their internal motivation in order to change their behavior in the long-term. Nonetheless, contingency management is useful for teaching people they are able to change their behavior when sufficiently motivated.

 

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