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Social Learning Theory of Addiction and Recovery Implications

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. Updated: Jun 5th 2019

According to social learning theory, our observations of other people engaging in addictive behavior can lead to the development of addiction. When we observe the behavior and reactions of other people using addictive substances (or activities) we may wish to repeat what we saw. For instance, suppose we observed an agitated, frazzled parent coming home from work. She drinks a few drinks, then becomes relaxed and fun to be around. We observed that alcohol is a good way of coping with stress.

teens drinking on beachRecovery consists of learning new ways to cope with stress. This might include developing friendships with people who do not use addictive substances. By associating with people who enjoy life without alcohol or drugs, we observe and learn something new. Recovery might also include watching a friend, coach, sponsor, or therapist modeling healthy behavior. We could then begin practicing these behaviors. For instance, a therapist and therapy participant could role-play a situation where a friend is offering them drugs. With practice, the therapy participant would learn how to cope with peer pressure to use.

Questions for personal reflection from social learning theory: Wouldn't I benefit from realizing that just because my parents smoked pot in order to cope with stress at work, I don't need to do the same thing? Wouldn't I be better off if I developed some relationships with people who didn't smoke pot? What else do I really have in common with my friends except buying and smoking marijuana together? Are those people really my friends? What would happen if I had other friends who enjoyed healthier activities? Wouldn't I learn to enjoy those activities with them?

 

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

Practical Recovery, established in 1985, is the world's leader in collaborative addiction treatment. Located in San Diego, California (USA), we offer a full range inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment services that are customized for each person. We rely on proven methods, informed by the latest neuroscience and addictions research. Our methods empower people to create their own solutions for healthy living, rather than relying on the 12-step powerlessness approach. Most services are provided by doctoral level, university-trained clinicians. We provide individual and group sessions; medications and detox as needed; flexible length of stay; and optional holistic healing. We offer modern comforts and conveniences such as private rooms; gourmet meals; excursions to the beach; mobile communication; and computer access. For a complimentary consultation, call 800-977-6110.

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