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How is Contingency Management (CM) Used in Addiction Treatment?

Addiction is a complex condition that often has serious consequences in many parts of a person’s life. Without treatment, people with addiction to drugs or alcohol face harm to their mental and physical health, relationships, and safety. 

There are many biological, personal, environmental, and behavioral factors believed to contribute to addiction. Because this condition affects all parts of a person and has many roots, addiction treatment must not just address the physical aspects. Detox alone is not enough to support long-term recovery.

There are many approaches to addiction treatment, and many techniques that can be used during treatment programs. Contingency management (CM) is a technique used to motivate people to make healthy choices in recovery. It is a method of treatment that involves rewarding positive behaviors. For some people in recovery, contingency management can help them stay committed to sobriety.

Learning about contingency management may help you make more informed choices about your addiction treatment. If you or a loved one require addiction or substance abuse treatment, it is important to get help as soon as possible. This will give you the best chance of a full, lifelong recovery.

What is Contingency Management (CM)?

Contingency management (CM) is a type of therapy that uses rewards to help guide a person’s behavior. In addiction treatment, contingency management can be used to motivate people to make healthy choices and work toward the larger goal of long-term sobriety. 

When using contingency management in a substance abuse treatment program, therapists work with their clients to identify goals related to recovery. For example, a common goal is having a clean toxicology screen. When the client achieves a goal, they are given a tangible reward or prize. Prizes vary among programs and from person to person, but they may be things like money, gift cards, tickets to events, or movie passes. 

How is Contingency Management Used in Addiction Treatment?

Many addiction treatment programs use contingency management as part of people’s treatment plans. There are seven principles used to guide therapists’ use of CM with a client. These are:

  1. Target the behavior: The therapist and client identify which positive behavior they’d like to increase, or the negative behavior they’d like to reduce.
  2. Identify who is appropriate: Not everyone responds to contingency management. It is believed to be more effective for people who are ambivalent about sobriety or who have not been successful in other treatment programs 
  3. Choose the right incentive: The therapist must determine what is valuable to each client and use rewards that the client will want to work for.
  4. Decide the size of the incentive: Some of this depends on the program’s budget, but therapists must also keep in mind what is valuable to their clients. They must also consider the magnitude of the behavior.
  5. Decide how often to give rewards: Therapists may give rewards frequently or space them out, depending on their client’s motivation.
  6. Give rewards immediately: The therapist rewards their client as soon as they complete the positive behavior. This reinforces the connection between positive behavior and the reward.
  7. Decide how long to offer rewards: The therapist must determine how long to continue rewarding their client’s behavior. 

Each person in a treatment program has different needs. The therapist needs to find the right level of motivation to keep their client working toward healthier behaviors.

Contingency management can be used alone but is more often used alongside other forms of therapy during addiction treatment.

Is Contingency Management Effective?

Research shows that contingency management can be very effective when used during treatment for:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Nicotine
  • Stimulants
  • Marijuana

This type of therapy is thought to be effective because it balances some of the perceived losses of early sobriety. For many people, recovery is very difficult. People may be faced with challenges like relationship stress, financial or legal troubles, and health problems from their substance abuse. 

Many people may have relied on substances to self-medicate in the past. In sobriety, they must use other coping skills. Having to face the challenges of life without self-medicating may feel overwhelming, or like they’ve lost something important. The tangible rewards given to them during contingency management therapy may help people stay committed to sobriety in the early days of recovery. 

Often in contingency management, rewards build as people reach bigger milestones. For example, someone might receive a gift card for one clean toxicology screen. If they reach ten clean tests, they may get a bigger reward, such as tickets to a sporting event. 

For many people, contingency management can help them stay motivated and on the right track during the challenging early days of recovery. 

Find Addiction Help for Yourself or a Loved One Today

If you or someone you love need substance abuse treatment or support during recovery, reach out to the caring staff at the Mandala Healing Center. We offer programs that are designed to help people overcome addiction and live the healthy, fulfilling lifestyle they choose.

Don’t wait another day for the treatment and support you need. Contact us today.