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Addiction in the Field of Behavior Analysis

The topic of addiction provides a rostrum for discussing many important issues in the field of behavior analysis. For that reason, Dr. Kathryn Bell and I are pleased to offer the upcoming webinar entitled:

Addictions and their Impact on Functioning: A Behavior Analytic Model for Assessment and Treatment.

There are three specific points, regarding the relevance of the webinar that I will highlight in this post. The first observation is centered on the overall status of the field of behavior analysis.

Contemporary work in the field of behavior analysis is analogous to malismatic singing. Specifically, there is grace and rhythm in the theory and application of behavior analysis. However, like melismatic singing, there is a repetitiveness, sameness, and restrictiveness in behavior analytic research that has resulted in a technological plainchant in our professional presentations and journals. In fact, Schlinger, Friman, and Alligood cogently delivered this “scientific sameness” message at the annual convention for the Association for Behavior Analysis International in 2013. The title of the presentation was: ABA Outside of Autism. Within the presentation, the patrons of our applied science voiced concern over how infrequently applied behavior analysis is used to treat socially significant issues other than those associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Therefore, rather than restating the comments about the unvaried nature of research participants and topics in our applied research, I would prefer to promote the people who are actually applying the principles of behavior analysis in diverse areas; people like Dr. Kathryn Bell and Dr. Carl Binder. In consequence, a salient reason for the upcoming webinar is to illustrate the work of individuals that are using behavior analytic processes and principles to address important societal issues, such as drug addiction. In my opinion, it is important to identify the professionals (and graduate students) who are applying behavior analysis in diverse areas, and exhibit their work, so we can build momentum with our collective effort to expand the scope and reach of the field of behavior analysis.

The second reason for this post is to make a bold proclamation, and it is this: In order to advance the field of behavior analysis, we need to turnaround. Our field’s behavior analysis methodology and contemporary approaches to behavioral assessment is illustrative of this point. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are accustomed to conducting a “linear” analysis in order to identify the function of some behavior of concern. More to the point, by way of a systematic structural and functional analysis process, BCBAs habitually examine the proximate antecedents and consequences of behavior in order to understand the variables that influence behaviors and maintain the strength of behaviors. However, in order to truly understand complex forms of human behavior, such as the repetitious use of illicit drugs, one must adopt a “nonlinear functional analysis” process, such as that described by Dr. Israel Goldiamond over 30 years ago (see attached article from the Behavior Analyst). Accordingly, the upcoming webinar will serve as a platform to discuss the differences between linear and nonlinear functional analysis and the implications of each methodology. The process of pretreatment nonlinear functional analysis is particularly relevant, especially for drug addiction, since the identification of the causes, and motivation, for a drug user’s behavior does not occur by way of a convenient and oversimplified ABC assessment. Realistically, an addict’s behavior is under the control of a web of unconditioned and conditioned motivating operations; negative reinforcement paradigms; a rich array of positive reinforcers; and the sequela of addiction (e.g., impaired decision-making, a decrement in the capacity for learning and the retention of information, and financial and interpersonal stressors). Add to the ambit of variables a psychiatric diagnosis and prescribed pharmacological agents and the total picture of addiction begins to emerge. Therefore, the second reason for our webinar is to discuss how drug addiction overlaps with the field of behavior analysis and functions as a serviceable vehicle for elucidating the difference between linear and nonlinear functional analysis. Knowledge regarding nonlinear functional analysis promotes both a mentality and methodology that is necessary when managing complex human behavior, such as protracted drug addiction.

Finally, many of the concepts in behavior analysis (e.g., motivating operations, behavioral traps, and the matching law) apply to the understanding and treatment of drug addiction. For example, drug users evolve during treatment. That is, their proportion of responding (managing each day via the use of drugs, or managing without the use of drugs and alternate forms of responding) shifts and changes over time. Here, we have yet another conceptual overlap with behavior analysis (i.e., understanding drug addiction and recovery via the matching law). Within our webinar we will discuss the innovative application of various behavior analytic strategies for the assessment and treatment of drug addition and an unexpurgated account of the realities centered on the assessment and treatment of drug addiction.

Dr. Kathryn Bell will use case studies to frame the discussion centered on the aforementioned points. However, I will also talk about my experiences treating heroin addiction and will highlight the use of behavior analytic thinking for the assessment and formation of effective treatment. We look forward to your participation and the opportunity to discuss the important role of behavior analysis in our culture.

Best,

Dr. Michael J. Cameron

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