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The Utility of Operant Conditioning to Address Poverty and Drug Addiction

Abstract

Poverty is associated with poor health. This article reviews research on proximal and distal operant interventions to address drug addiction and poverty. Proximal interventions promote health behaviors directly. Abstinence reinforcement, a common proximal intervention for the treatment of drug addiction, can be effective. Manipulating familiar parameters of operant conditioning can improve the effectiveness of abstinence reinforcement. Increasing reinforcement magnitude can increase the proportion of individuals that respond to abstinence reinforcement, arranging long-term exposure to abstinence reinforcement can prevent relapse, and arranging abstinence reinforcement sequentially across drugs can promote abstinence from multiple drugs. Distal interventions reduce risk factors that underlie poor health and may have an indirect beneficial effect on health. In the case of poverty, distal interventions seek to move people out of poverty. The therapeutic workplace includes both proximal and distal interventions to treat drug addiction and poverty. In the therapeutic workplace, participants earn stipends or wages to work. The therapeutic workplace uses employment-based reinforcement in which participants are required to provide drug-free urine samples or take scheduled doses of addiction medications to work and/or maintain maximum pay. The therapeutic workplace has two phases, a training and an employment phase. Special contingencies appear required to promote skill development during the training phase, employment-based reinforcement can promote abstinence from heroin and cocaine and adherence to naltrexone, and the therapeutic workplace can increase employment. Behavior analysts are well-suited to address both poverty and drug addiction using operant interventions like the therapeutic workplace.

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Funding

The preparation of this manuscript was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health under grants R01AI117065, R01DA037314, R01AA024101, and T32DA07209. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Silverman, K., Holtyn, A.F. & Toegel, F. The Utility of Operant Conditioning to Address Poverty and Drug Addiction. Perspect Behav Sci 42, 525–546 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40614-019-00203-4

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Keywords

  • Poverty
  • Incentives
  • Operant conditioning
  • Employment
  • Therapeutic workplace
  • Drug addiction