With the popularity of television programs like Criminal Minds that focus on crime, students considering the career might wonder why there are substance abuse courses in behavioral analyst programs. The TV series glamorizes the profession and probably has led to an increase in the number of people entering the degree programs. What is behavioral analysis and are substance abuse courses offered within its curriculum?

A Working Definition

Merriam Webster defines behavioral science this way: it is “a branch of science that deals primarily with human action and often attempts to generalize about human behavior in society.” Behavioral analysis is the research into specific kinds of human action and reaction to their environment. Applied behavioral analysis, then, is the implementation of the conclusions derived from the research in addressing the issues. The science began in the 1960s with the work of BF Skinner, Fred Keller and others. They interviewed people in institutions who had poor adaptability skills and used the insights gained to fuel intervention programs that proved successful. The applied science actually is interdisciplinary in nature, using concepts from social and cultural anthropology, psychology and psychiatry, social sciences, and aspects of biology, law, political science and other areas to explain human behavior and design interventions.

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Where is the Research Applied?

The science has implications in profiling criminals, as the TV series shows, but it is also used in business. Business leaders are people who get things accomplished through the efforts of others. The website Clg.com points out that managing the behaviors of others is vital to affecting change in an organization. To manage group behaviors, you must first understand the dynamics involved. Education uses behavior analysis to design programs and curriculum addressing the needs of special learners. Applied behavioral analysis is also used to help people with problems in substance abuse. Alcoholism and addiction costs the US $484 billion a year and 31 percent of homeless people suffer the effects of the disease.

What Courses are Included in the Degree Curriculum?

Undergraduate degree programs are really an overview of the field and contain reviews of the historical and current literature, general studies in behavior deviations, and courses in substance abuse. Because the field is multidisciplinary, students have courses in psychology, social sciences and other fields. They learn how to address problems as members of teams and study how the environment affects behavior, a major goal of applied behavioral analysis, according to the APA Handbook of Behavioral Analysis. They also learn how to control their own biases in working with diverse populations, and how to apply the fundamentals of scientific research methodology in their research. Graduate programs allow students to specialize, and one specialty is addictive behaviors. Applied behavioral analysis is critical to treating alcoholics and addicts because counselors and others must identify environmental stresses and teach their clients and patients adaptive behaviors. Applied behavioral analysts work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals and as consultants in managing addictions.
If you are considering a career as an applied behavior analyst, you will likely earn a master’s degree because it is the standard for management positions in the field. Your curriculum may not offer specific alcoholism or drug abuse courses, but they will be included in the study of deviant behaviors. Helping people with addiction problems is critical to successful societal living and that is why, with other pertinent classes, schools include substance abuse courses in behavioral analyst programs.