Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 8: Positive reinforcement is not enough to motivate a person to stop using

Positive reinforcement is not enough to motivate a person to stop using drugs

You’re a good parent, a loving spouse, a decent boss, a fair judge, a caring therapist. You took psychology in college. You learned that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement. Honey catches more flies than vinegar. But, you don’t know drugs, or, if you do, you haven’t thought it out.

Your praise, your rewards, your love, your kindness, your convincing rationale, your unconditional positive regard, is never, ever going to be enough. You’re competing with crack cocaine, with crystal meth, with heroin, with a good buzz. Do you know what you’re up against? Do you think gold stars are better than that?

The only thing that can challenge the reinforcement that drugs provide is pain.

Drug provide plenty of pain. First, there’s the withdrawal. Then, there’s the consequences of having poor judgment when they’re intoxicated. There’s money problems, work problems, legal problems, and health problems that all arise from substance use. Use long enough and there will be plenty of problems. There will be plenty of pain.

You can still praise and reward when there is something to praise and reward. You can be loving, kind, rational, and caring. You don’t have to provide the pain. The drugs and their consequences will provide plenty of pain. You just have to get out of the way. Stop covering for them. Stop taking the pain yourself.

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Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

One thought on “Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 8: Positive reinforcement is not enough to motivate a person to stop using

  1. Interesting piece, thank you. I completely agree. From a personal standpoint, knowing the pain my substance abuse brings holds me back a lot more than thinking ‘isn’t life great when I’m sober’!

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