Behavior Chain Analysis

What Is A Behavior Chain Analysis? How To Do A Chain Analysis? Example Of A Behavior Chain, DBT Behavior Chain, & Mental Health Treatment

What Is A Behavior Chain Analysis?

A behavior chain analysis is a method that can help people better comprehend why certain behavior happen. When managing maladaptive behavior (actions that prevent people from adapting, adjusting, or participating in different aspects of life), a chain analysis can help identify the different factors contributing to that behavior.

Chain analysis can be useful in treating different mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD treatment), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), substance use, and other conditions. It is an important technique in a type of therapy known as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

When To Do A Behavior Chain Analysis?

The individual symptoms of mental health issues may frequently be addressed with the help of behavior chain analysis. For instance, studies have shown that it can help with the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Behavior Chain Analysis
Behavioral chains are a series of stimuli/response reactions, ultimately leading to a problem behavior or relapse event.

A chain analysis might be beneficial to perform shortly after engaging in problematic behavior. In this approach, your memory of the incident will likely be more vivid, and you will probably be able to recall more details about the circumstances that gave rise to your problematic behavior.

It might also be useful to pinpoint what things might have made you more sensitive to responding to the situation as you did. For instance, when people do not eat well or do not get enough sleep, they may be more sensitive to experiencing negative moods or having more reactive emotional experiences. A sequence of behaviors consisting of appropriate, inappropriate, or a combination of both can be linked together in a behavior chain. [1]

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How To Do A Chain Analysis?

To do a behavior chain analysis, a person must first recall their circumstances, thoughts, and feelings immediately before the behavior. By doing this, a person can become more aware of all the things that could make them more likely to engage in problem behavior. In this manner, a person can better step in at an early stage to stop that behavior from occurring again.

Choose The Behavior To Analyze

Uncovering the behavior that you wish to modify is the first step. For instance, do you wish to quit drinking alcohol for self-medication? Try to pinpoint a habit that is making your life difficult for you.

Questions you might ask yourself include:

  • What was the actual event that led to the behavior?
  • When did the problem first start?
  • What was happening when it began?
  • What thoughts, feelings, or behaviors were you having at the time?

When defining the behavior, be very specific and detailed. 

Next, consider what occurred before you exhibited the problematic chaining behavior examples, such as re-occurring suicidal ideations and relapse. Write down the original triggering incident and then consider what followed. Questions you can ask yourself include:

  • What thought or feeling did you have after it happened?
  • What actions followed?
  • How did you feel during and after the behavior? 
  • What were you doing?
  • What was going on around you?
  • Were you in an argument?
  • Did you have a memory of your traumatic event triggered?

This process aims to identify the event or situation that served as the starting point for your problem behavior.

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Pay Attention To Thought Patterns

Determine the kind of ideas that were sparked by the circumstance or occurrence that resulted in the problematic behavior now. Questions to ask yourself at this point include:

  • How did you assess the situation or yourself in that situation?
  • Did you engage in catastrophic or all-or-none thinking?

Comprehending the “behavior chaining examples” and “thought patterns” that led up to the behavior is important and will let you look for ways to change those unhelpful thoughts.

Example Of A Behavior Chain

Example of behavior chain: You have decided to participate in the “Great Smoke Out” day sponsored by the American Cancer Society. You arrive at work.

  1. Craving for a cigarette begins.
  2. You take the money out with which to purchase a pack.
  3. Guilt feelings over craving a cigarette begin.
  4. Anxious if you don’t have enough money to get cigarettes.
  5. Nervous until “break” time.
  6. Craving increases.
  7. Get up from the desk, anxious to get to the lobby.
  8. Excited about this decision.
  9. Put money into a cigarette machine.
  10. Open a pack of cigarettes.
  11. Enjoy the smell of a new pack.
  12. Anticipation of pleasure waiting to be experienced.
  13. Nervous that a co‑worker will catch you lighting up.
  14. Walk into the bathroom; enter a stall.
  15. Put a cigarette in your mouth.
  16. Pull out the lighter and ignite the flame.
  17. Touch the flame of the cigarette and take a deep drag on a cigarette.
  18. Continue smoking cigarettes to completion.
  19. Guilt feelings begin over having given in to the urge to smoke.
  20. Craving for another cigarette begins. [2]

With this behavior chain analysis example, you can determine which part of the behavior chain triggers you to start smoking. You’ll better know where to break the link leading to relapse or problematic behavior.

How can you control a behavioral chain?

The links need to be identified and broken to control a behavioral chain. Each step in the behavioral chain consists of a:

  • Interpreting events in your life differently so that they are less likely to have the power to lead you to exercise habitual problem behavior or relapse to old behaviors.
  • Using rational thinking about what is happening in your life eliminates the “shoulds” and “musts” from thinking about how others should treat you and how you should treat others.
  • Substituting positive affirmations and positive self‑talk when bombarded with emotional cues or irrational thoughts about yourself, events, or others.
  • Taking responsibility for your actions, not blaming other persons or events for making you fall into the behavior chain.
  • Substituting alternative, healthy behavior for those behavior traits that lead to the problem behavior or relapse event.
  • Substituting required activities for antecedent behavior in a chain, such as doing office work, paying bills, cleaning the house, opening the mail, paying attention to defensive driving techniques, etc.
  • Substituting enjoyable activities for antecedent behaviors in a chain, such as enjoying a hobby, listening to music, exercising, calling a SEA’s Buddy, writing a letter, going to a movie, and reading for pleasure.
  • Substituting positive behavior in a chain of behavior is known to lead to chronic problems or relapse events.
  • Reinforcing positive behavior traits, ignoring negative behavior patterns, or substituting new behavior traits for negative behavior patterns or relapse events.
  • Recognizing the behavior that habitually leads to predictable, negative‑consequence behavior chains or relapse events.
Behavior Chain Analysis
Behavior chains can be broken into habitual patterns that give insight into chain‑breaking strategies and alternative behavior traits that help prevent future relapse.

What are some characteristics of behavioral chains?

  • If the chain of behavior patterns is broken at any point, it probably will not progress to the final behavior.
  • The earlier the link breaks, the easier it is to undo the chain.
  • Behavior chains often go unidentified before the final link in the chain occurs.
  • Behavior chains are self‑propelling; they have the momentum to continue.
  • The chains can be diagrammed, but one must begin with the last link and trace back to each preceding behavior or emotional cue.
  • Behavior chains can be broken into habitual patterns that give insight into chain‑breaking strategies and alternative behavior traits that help prevent future relapse. [3]

Look For Solutions

The subsequent behavioral chain analysis stage evaluates remedies that can deal with various facets of the behavior. These answers will change depending on the person, their behavior, and available resources.

  • What could you have done differently at each point in the sequence?
  • What coping strategies could you have used?
  • What skills would help you deal more effectively with that behavior, thought, or feeling?
  • Are there new skills you could learn that would help?

At each point in the chain, write down resolutions you might use to handle the problem. You might write, “When I start feeling X, I could use coping strategy Y.”

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Review The Chain Of Events

Assess the feelings you experienced as a result of an event. List as many different feelings as possible, such as dread, fear, sadness, rage, guilt, humiliation, and disgrace. Have an awareness of what you feel in your body. Try to identify and mark all the feelings that come up.

For instance, did you experience shortness of breath? Muscle tension? An increased heart rate? Think about how your body responded to the situation.

Next, list what your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations made you want to do. Did they make you want to escape the situation or do something to stop those feelings? Did you feel a need to engage in your problem behavior?

Finally, think about the outcomes of engaging in your problem behavior. Did you feel better after that? Did you feel disappointed in yourself? Ashamed? Try to list as many results (both positive and negative) as you can.

Identifying Healthier Coping Strategies

Make a list of several coping mechanisms you may employ at each level once you’ve completed the chain analysis. It is crucial to figure out how to “break the chain” by using healthy coping mechanisms and determining what purpose a problem behavior serves.

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DBT Behavior Chain

The Chain Analysis of Problem Behavior, or Behavior Chain Analysis, is an exercise in DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) that we can use to analyze our problematic behavior by looking at what caused it and then the consequences of it.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD). The patient populations for which DBT has the most empirical support include parasuicidal women with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Still, there have been promising findings for patients with BPD and substance use disorders (SUDs), persons who meet the criteria for binge-eating disorder, and depressed elderly patients.

Behavior Chain Analysis Worksheet

Behavior Chain Analysis is a huge part of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Most folks in DBT have at least one “Target Behavior.” It’s a behavior you want to decrease in your life. It could be anything from self-harm to chronic lateness. It’s important to address these behaviors and be honest about them in treatment because they can interfere with your progress in recovery.

Behavior Chains can often come with the language of “should.” It can become about what you “should’ve” done to intervene and stop the behavior rather than what you could do next time. DBT is not about “shoulds.” It’s actively anti-should. Try to talk about your behavior chain in the language of what you will do next time instead of changing the past.

Use these worksheets to work through your behavior chains and identify your target behaviors.

Download the behavior chain worksheet (behavior chain analysis worksheet pdf/DBT behavior chain analysis worksheet). The behavioral chain analysis worksheet (DBT behavior chain analysis pdf) allows you to analyze what led to your behavior and figure out what you can do to avoid it next time.

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Mental Health Treatment

You may use behavior chain analysis to comprehend a behavior and take actions to alter it, either on your own or with the assistance of a therapist. However, getting treatment from a mental health expert is crucial if you are dealing with a mental health issue or engaging in activities that are hurting you or causing disruption in your life.

A report [4] published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggested that there is a reason why people with mental disorders are up to two times as likely to develop substance abuse disorders:

  1. Certain drugs can cause abusers to suffer one or more symptoms of another mental illness.
  2. Mental illness may precipitate or hasten substance abuse. An individual suffering from symptoms of a mental illness may attempt to self-medicate.
  3. Drug use disorders and mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors; genetic, deficits, and otherwise.

People who struggle with mental health disorders seek clinical medication or self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. People who get prescriptions for their condition are less likely to develop abuse disorders, but the medications they access often have high abuse potential, creating more risk. Fortunately, you can avoid relapse with professional help and improve your quality of life by taking care of your mental health!

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Behavior Chain Analysis
DBT is evidence-based. It goes beyond mental health illness and improves individuals’ quality of life. It reduces anxiety, depression, trauma, and stress symptoms and decreases suicidal and self-harming thoughts and behaviors.
Search Behavior Chain Analysis & Other Resources

[1] Kuhn SA, Lerman DC, Vorndran CM, Addison L. Analysis of factors that affect responding in a two-response chain in children with developmental disabilities. J Appl Behav Anal. 2006 Fall;39(3):263-80. DOI: 10.1901/jaba.2006.118-05. PMID: 17020209; PMCID: PMC1702402. –
[2-3] 1999-2022 James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance Messina, Ph.D. –
[4] Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center –
[5] May JM, Richardi TM, Barth KS. Dialectical behavior therapy as a treatment for borderline personality disorder. Ment Health Clin. 2016 Mar 8;6(2):62-67. DOI: 10.9740/mhc.2016.03.62. PMID: 29955449; PMCID: PMC6007584. –,empirically%20supported%20treatment%20for%20BPD.
[6] National Institutes of Health (US); Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US); 2007. Information about Mental Illness and the Brain. Available from: