Using theories of behaviour change to inform interventions for addictive behaviours


Thomas L. Webb, Department of Psychology, The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK. E-mail:


Aims  This paper reviews a set of theories of behaviour change that are used outside the field of addiction and considers their relevance for this field.

Methods  Ten theories are reviewed in terms of (i) the main tenets of each theory, (ii) the implications of the theory for promoting change in addictive behaviours and (iii) studies in the field of addiction that have used the theory. An augmented feedback loop model based on Control Theory is used to organize the theories and to show how different interventions might achieve behaviour change.

Results  Briefly, each theory provided the following recommendations for intervention: Control Theory: prompt behavioural monitoring, Goal-Setting Theory: set specific and challenging goals, Model of Action Phases: form ‘implementation intentions’, Strength Model of Self-Control: bolster self-control resources, Social Cognition Models (Protection Motivation Theory, Theory of Planned Behaviour, Health Belief Model): modify relevant cognitions, Elaboration Likelihood Model: consider targets' motivation and ability to process information, Prototype Willingness Model: change perceptions of the prototypical person who engages in behaviour and Social Cognitive Theory: modify self-efficacy.

Conclusions  There are a range of theories in the field of behaviour change that can be applied usefully to addiction, each one pointing to a different set of modifiable determinants and/or behaviour change techniques. Studies reporting interventions should describe theoretical basis, behaviour change techniques and mode of delivery accurately so that effective interventions can be understood and replicated.