Contingency Management: A Useful Therapy For Addiction Treatment

26 June 2020
 Categories: Health & Medical , Blog


There are many ways to address addiction. Some people do really well in 12-step programs. Others find healing through cognitive behavioral therapy. Another type of therapy to consider for addiction is called contingency management. Here is a look at this form of therapy and how it works for patients struggling with addiction.

What is contingency management?

Contingency management is a sort of reward-based or positive reinforcement therapy. Basically, the focus is on rewarding patients for positive behaviors. In the case of addiction, a positive behavior would be abstaining from drug use for a certain period of time. Turning to a healthier behavior in place of drugs would also be considered a positive behavior. 

The reward associated with contingency management can be almost anything, and your therapist will likely customize the reward based on your own preferences and interests. It's common for patients to be given vouchers as they reach certain milestones. They can then turn those vouchers in for a specific prize or reward after a certain period of time. For instance, patients may be given a voucher every week their urine tests negative for their substance of choice. After accumulating 10 vouchers, they can exchange them for theme park tickets, a meal at a fancy restaurant, or some other reward they've decided on with their therapist.

How does contingency management work?

Contingency management works for addiction treatment because you're basically replacing the reward of drugs with another reward. When you're deep in addiction, drugs are the reward you give your brain. Replacing that reward with something else is a lot easier than depriving yourself of rewards altogether.

Contingency management does work better for treating addiction to substances that are less physically addictive, but still psychologically addictive. For instance, it's not as effective for heroin users, but it works well for those who struggle with cocaine. 

Most treatment programs do not rely on contingency management alone. While it is a useful tool to keep patients from turning back to drug use, it does not really address the underlying reasons for your addiction, and that is usually necessary for a lasting recovery. Your therapist will likely combine contingency management protocols with cognitive behavioral therapy for a complete and effective program. 

Modern drug addiction therapy is changing, and contingency management is just one of the effective tactics therapists are beginning to apply more often. Talk to your therapist to learn more about the benefits of drug rehab.