Contingency management is a behavioral therapy that leans into providing incentive-based interventions to produce behavior change. As a form of treatment, it is also commonly referred to as motivational incentives. Contingency management is used to treat substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders. It is sometimes used in combination with other behavioral therapies or a medication-assisted treatment program.

Take advantage of Olympic Behavioral Health’s many addiction treatment programs by contacting (561) 272-0800.



Incentive-based interventions in substance abuse treatment rely on the psychological understanding of behavior acquisition. For instance, positive behavior reinforcement leads to that behavior being repeated. On the flip side, behaviors that are not rewarded or reinforced will taper off or cease altogether.

Instead of focusing on negative reinforcement wherein, negative behavior is punished, contingency management focuses on praising positive behaviors. Thus, incentive-based intervention leans on dishing out rewards when recovery benchmarks are met, such as clean drug tests.

The use of incentives in substance abuse treatment is also designed to combat the association someone with an addiction may have around drug use producing a reward. Certainly, drug use is damaging. But for users amid their addiction, their brain has linked drug use with positives like the euphoria produced by opiates or the dulling sensation of drinking alcohol. It is thus helpful to replace that link with a stronger link between abstinence and rewards. Ultimately, contingency management is a form of abstinence reinforcement.



Contingency management programs rely on seven principles to aid in recovery from substance abuse. These include:

  • Identifying the target behavior, such as regular therapy attendance or clean weekly drug tests
  • Choosing the right client as not everyone in addiction recovery will benefit from this approach
  • Selecting sufficiently motivating rewards
  • Defining the scope of the rewards, since natural constraints of costs and logistics exist for what can easily be delivered through a contingency management program
  • Reward frequency
  • Reward timing, meaning when the reward is given, whether that’s immediately following the target behavior or merely at certain points during treatment
  • Duration of abstinence reinforcement

To expand on that last bullet, it is unrealistic to continue contingency management for months or years. Eventually, a person in recovery should continue pursuing sobriety once rewards no longer factor in. How much time it will take before rewards are no longer necessary depends on the length and severity of addiction alongside the efficacy of the chosen reward.


Two interventions related to contingency management are voucher-based reinforcement and prize incentives contingency management. Voucher-based reinforcement works by distributing vouchers in response to meeting benchmarks. That could look like a voucher in return for a clean drug test every week. Those vouchers can, in turn, be used for desirable material things like food, activities, gym memberships, or bus passes.

Over time, the value of these vouchers increases and can be applied to more things. This variation on contingency management stresses the social component of addiction recovery as the vouchers are exchanged for things that help people in recovery embrace a sober lifestyle.

Meanwhile, prize incentives contingency management is more like entering a raffle prize drawing. People receive the chance to draw prize tickets in response to clean drug tests, attend therapy sessions, or take medications as prescribed. The more their behavior aligns with recovery goals, the better prizes they become eligible for.


Contingency management is growing as a common intervention for substance abuse. On its face, it may sound outlandishly expensive. But research indicates contingency management programs only cost a few hundred dollars per person more than other forms of therapy-based addiction treatment. This slight increase in cost compared to other methods is outweighed by the potential for improved outcomes. That may be particularly true among patients who have failed to experience success with other forms of treatment.

Discover the full benefits and possibilities of incentive-based interventions when you contact (561) 272-0800.