How Common Addiction Strategies are Consistent with Behavior Analytic Principles

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Angela Cathey, MA & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, Brett DiNovi has an intimate conversation with his brother, Jay DiNovi, about behavior analysis and addiction. In the video, Jay DiNovi describes his harrowing path toward sobriety and the techniques that have helped him the most. Brett describes the behavior analytic underpinnings of some of the practices that his brother describes as helpful.

As Brett notes in the current video, not all of the techniques Jay describes were initially developed by behavior analysts. Many helpful treatments and techniques have been developed for addiction and other issues by other fields. When effective treatments are described in behavior analytic terms they are simply described a different level of analysis in our field’s specific terminology.

In the video, Jay DiNovi describes his experience with severe alcohol addiction that led him to experience tremors, seizures, and a heart attack. He describes techniques he learned in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to master his addiction. Jay describes learning that he must actively plan to include ‘replacement’ reinforcement in his daily activities. He tends to do this by taking planned breaks and including small treats like coffee into his day. These simple acts can assist individuals in resisting the maladaptive behavior chains attached to reinforcement gained through use of drugs and alcohol.

Jay also describes the importance of the use of tokens gained as he extends his sobriety. This common AA & NA technique helps raise the saliency of the hard-won gains people make on their path to sobriety. The daily struggles of maintaining sobriety can often go unnoticed and unrewarded. The act of receiving a token, a physical symbol, that raises the saliency of the rewards of sobriety and the accomplishment of remaining sober can prove vital in keeping people moving towards a drug free life.

Further, Jay describes the importance of small alterations of verbal behavior in maintaining his sobriety. When describing his sobriety, Jay reports that it is helpful to state that he “has __ months or years sober.” The act of stating one “has” obtained months or years of sobriety raises the saliency of the outcome as a possession that is won and may be lost. This technique, again, originated through AA & NA developers but is consistent with what we know about the impact of verbal behavior in altering the functions of direct contingencies.

Make sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

bSci21Media, LLC, owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog, bSciEntrepreneurial, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

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