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Understanding Behavior Modification and Problematic Behaviors

What is behavior modification?

Behavior modification is used frequently in therapy to modify, eliminate or reduce problematic behaviors.  The behaviors can be habits, addictions, obsessive or compulsive impulses.

Behavior modification is frequently used for people with an addiction or addictive tendencies. A person with addiction uses a substance or engages in a certain behavior frequently and repeatedly. Addiction is marked by an inability to control the behavior or substance. A person can experience addiction without experiencing negative repercussions, at least for some time.

However, it is highly likely that behavior will lead to a negative impact on one’s health, relationships, work, or everyday life.

Addiction is a condition that affects the reward and reinforcement centers of the brain, as well as the motivation and memory systems. Humans are biologically motivated to seek rewards, which trigger the release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter involved in helping us feel pleasure. The smell of cookies baking in the oven or hugging a loved one can trigger dopamine release, and we begin to associate the activity with the good feeling.

Substances (such as alcohol, nicotine or opioids) and certain behaviors (such as sex or gambling) can also trigger the release of dopamine, and a cycle begins where they continue to seek out the substance or activity because of the rewarding effects. The continued use of the behavior or substance can affect the brain’s executive functions in the prefrontal cortex, making it so the pursuit of the activity or the drug begins to consume the person’s thoughts and interest. If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, early intervention in the form of therapy and behavior modification can be lifesaving.

Addiction is a complex phenomenon with many theories, and several factors that may contribute to its development. It has recently been defined by some healthcare professionals as a progressive disease, to help reduce the stigma (the belief that addiction is a problem with morality or willpower) that is often associated with addiction.

Other professionals assert that addiction is not so simple or straightforward, and that the causes are not just biological, but also cultural, social, and psychological. They support the idea that addiction is a deeply entrenched and self-perpetuating habit, and that changes to the brain such as rewired brain circuits can eventually be reversed.

In either case, addiction is a multi-faceted condition. People of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to a behavior or substance. However, there are several risk factors that can influence one’s likelihood of developing an addiction.

  • Genetic factors such as a family history of drug or alcohol addiction, the way one’s hormones in the body respond to stress, or a variation in the makeup of dopamine receptors in the brain could predispose an individual to addiction.
  • Gender may also play a role. Compared to women, men are more likely to develop substance use. Women tend to experience greater problems due to addiction and have more health-related consequences. Recent research indicates that the substance abuse patterns of men and women have become more similar.
  • Early use of drugs or alcohol can increase the likelihood of a progression to addiction, since the part of the brain that controls executive function is not fully developed.

  • Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increase the risk of addiction. Substance abuse can be a way for these individuals to cope with painful feelings, while exacerbating their condition.
  • Sustained trauma and abuse in childhood can dysregulate the normal stress response and shift the course of brain development, which in turn, can impair emotional regulation and sensitize the stress response situation. This leads to an abnormally strong reaction to perceived threats, making an individual feel easily overwhelmed by the usual struggles of life.

  • Lack of family involvement or parental supervision, troubled relationships with parents or siblings, and family disruptions such as divorce can contribute to the risk of addiction.
  • Particularly during adolescence, when the desire to be liked by one’s peers is strong, peer pressure is a factor influencing substance use and abuse.

The initial step towards recognition of a problem may come through an intervention from family or other loved ones. Seeking the advice of a trained psychologist may be beneficial. Orange County therapist Dr. Susan Pazak is a psychologist who specializes in diagnosing and managing addiction. During the initial consultation Dr. Pazak will seek to learn about the client’s physical and mental health history and the history of the addiction.

“You will not change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Dr. Susan Pazak

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Orange County therapist Dr. Susan Pazak specializes in managing and treating addiction. With a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and PhD in Clinical Psychology, Dr. Pazak has a extensive experience treating addiction. Addiction can destroy lives. Fortunately, addiction can be managed and ultimately treated. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, schedule an initial consultation today. We are here to help.

At a Glance

Dr. Susan Pazak, MD

  • Bachelors, Masters and PhD in Clinical Psychology
  • Voted best psychologist in Laguna Niguel 3 years
  • Studied marital & sexual satisfaction in couples
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