Measuring behavioral allocation in the natural environment: Understanding substance use in context

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kate B. Carey


Behavioral allocation, Substance use

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy | Substance Abuse and Addiction


The behavioral choice perspective provides a theoretical framework for understanding how substance use can emerge as a highly preferred reinforcer. Empirical findings generated by laboratory studies support the notion that substance use consumption is sensitive to changes in access to substances as well as changes in the value and availability of alternative rewards and activities. Subsequent studies confirmed that the behavioral theories of choice could be applied to substance use as it occurs in the natural environment. The current project sought to further evaluate an assessment instrument designed to measure engagement in and reinforcement derived from a variety of substance-free and substance-related experiences. Participants completed questionnaires on two occasions separated by a four week interval. During the four weeks separating assessments, one-third of participants were instructed to decrease their substance use and one-third were instructed to increase engagement in substance-free activities. As hypothesized, the substance-related reinforcement scores demonstrated adequate temporal stability and sensitivity to changes in behavior. However, more research is needed to determine the factors that influence the temporal stability of substance-free reinforcement. Both the substance-related and substance-free scores displayed generalizability across dimension, as demonstrated by their differential relationship with theoretically related and concurrently measured variables. Results are discussed within the behavioral choice framework and include the clinical implications and future research directions.