What Are the Behavioral Models of Addiction?

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In understanding why people may struggle with substance abuse addiction, it’s helpful to analyze the physical, mental, and social mechanisms that impact them. Looking at the whole of the person and their behavior has provided researchers insight into what drives individuals to continue using substances.

Consequently, there are specific behavioral models that explain why people keep participating in actions that are harmful to them. To better understand these models of addiction, we need to look at how substances affect the brain and behavior.

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How the Brain Works

The brain is similar to a computer that can be triggered by certain actions. Billions of neurons serve as the “switches” to turn on emotions or other parts of the brain. Some neurons may signal the brain to have various responses. When these neurons get activated or triggered, they produce the desired effect. Sometimes the response may be happiness, fear, anxiety, concentration, and all the other things your brain is responsible for doing.

For example, eating is considered an enjoyable activity because it activates specific neurons in the brain that produce pleasurable sensations. Obviously, without this, we would starve. So, it’s essential that the neurons are operating properly and not hindered by any substances.

How Drugs Affect the Brain and Behavior

They can target neurons and interfere with how the signal conducts itself. Different drugs may mimic natural neurotransmitters due to the similarity in chemical makeup. The drugs attach to the neurons, sending misfires and abnormal messages through the brain’s network. They also trigger dopamine signals in the brain, making people feel a sense of euphoria, which makes them want to continue doing the substance again.

Drugs shape a person’s behavior by rewarding the brain’s circuitry. When you receive a strong dose of dopamine from the drugs, it causes those neurons to respond accordingly and to change over time. Activities that once provided fulfillment and happiness no longer do because the brain chemistry is altered. To feel pleasure, the person requires the drug.

Behavioral Models of Addiction and What They Mean

Scientists and researchers interpret how substances lead people to become addicted, referred to as the behavioral models of addiction. These are as follows:

Disease Model of Addiction

According to the disease model of addiction, the brain becomes dysfunctional due to the reward-seeking cycle followed by negative withdrawal consequences. This constant misfiring of neurons changes the brain’s structure, resulting in the person developing a chronic disease. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, is a tool used by doctors and therapists to help identify illnesses in their patients. The DSM-5 identifies this particular chronic disease as substance use disorder.

This disease model of addiction relies on scientific research to conclude that addiction is driven by the chemical changes in the brain from with continued drug use. Just as with any disease, the theory is that once you have it, it doesn’t disappear. You always live with the disease and can only control it through abstinence and treatment.

Morality Model of Addiction

The morality model focuses more on the individual’s free will and moral responsibility for their behavior and actions. This behavioral model was perhaps the most natural way to think about addiction in days past. It was a common reaction to the problems that arose from substance abuse.

Religious and legal advocates were at the top of the list recommending punitive measures to get results. These people oppose the theory that addiction is a disease, believing that addicted people can simply quit if they put their minds to it. On the other hand, supporters of the disease model of addiction believe the morality model is outdated and current research does not support it.

Psychodynamic Model of Addiction

Understanding the definition of psychodynamic provides a clearer understanding of what this model of addiction means. The term “psychodynamic” refers to mental or emotional forces a person may experience. These forces may stem from early childhood experiences or other forces operating at the unconscious level, affecting current behavior and choices.

In the psychodynamic model of addiction, the theory is that a person has underlying, unresolved psychological problems that drive them to self-medicate with substances. This maladaptive coping strategy leads to addiction but can be resolved by targeting the underlying psychological problems through rehab and therapy.

Socio-Cultural Model of Addiction

By viewing addiction through the lens of social context, we see another behavior model of addiction. This theory proposes that society and culture are motivators in people becoming addicted. For example, consider the link between cultural acceptance and the celebration of drinking. Also, in music and some celebrities often make references to drug use. This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. For quite some time, music and society have hinted at substance use in pop culture.

Environmental Model of Addiction

While some researchers may combine the social and environmental models, there is room to separate them into two distinct categories. The environmental model of addiction focuses explicitly on the individual’s environment and its effects. What type of living environment does the person have that may contribute to substance abuse? Are there extreme stressors in their life?

Poverty is another aspect of the environmental model of addiction that plays a role in shaping this theory. Research reveals that lower-income statuses increase alcohol and cocaine misuse among young people. This, in turn, leads to a higher chance of substance use disorder as an adult.

Overcoming Addiction

Whatever the reasons for you or a loved one to struggle with substance misuse disorder, treatments are available to help. At California Detox, we provide several treatment programs designed to meet your specific needs.

We will tailor a program that addresses the behavior model of addiction that has driven your issues. Reach out to our hotline and begin the admissions process of verifying your insurance information. An admissions coordinator is available to take your call. Visit our premier Laguna Beach rehab facility and start the journey today.


Some common signs of behavioral addiction include: Preoccupation with the behavior and a strong urge to engage in it. Difficulty controlling or stopping the behavior. Continued engagement in the behavior despite negative consequences, such as health problems, financial difficulties, or relationship issues. Withdrawal symptoms when unable to engage in the behavior. Loss of interest in other activities or hobbies.
The most effective treatments for behavioral addiction will depend on the individual and the specific addiction they are struggling with. However, some commonly used treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, mindfulness-based interventions, support groups, and medication.


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