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Instant Gratification and Addiction

Instant GratificationHuman instinct is to choose instant gratification over a later benefit, and this is especially true in people who struggle with drug dependency.[1] A component of addiction is the failure to exert self-control in recognition of future consequences.1 Therefore, a team of researchers conducted a study and found an unexpected pattern that may help tailor addiction treatment.1

“It was an incongruity in our data that caught my eye, ” said Warren Bickel, the study’s lead author. “I realized that the people who discounted the future the most—the ones we least expected to be able to recover from addiction—also showed the best outcomes when they received an effective treatment. The ones who discounted the future the least, improved the least.”1

Bickel and colleagues realized s signature of behavioral change, called rate dependence, might apply to future discounting.1

“Rate dependence generally refers to an inverse relationship between people’s rates of responding to something at the outset and then again after an intervention,” said Bickel. “This phenomenon is believed to be the reason stimulant medications work for kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Stimulants that would make most people bounce off the walls actually slow these kids down.”1

Therefore, to see whether future discounting changes in a rate-dependent manner, Bickel and colleagues analyzed the data from five of Bickel’s previous studies that tested 222 people who were addicted to stimulants, heroin, or tobacco.1 The results did confirm the pattern.1 Those who were more concerned about future consequences did not show much change in delayed gratification; however, those who were more likely to live in the moment showed a larger reduction in how much they discounted the future.1

Furthermore, the treatments caused the greatest decrease in substance use among people who had the highest rates of future discounting at baseline.1 Training a person’s working memory was one of the most effective treatments.1 The process of valuing the future often overlaps with mental processes and brain regions that are associated with memory; therefore, a training program that enhances working memory helps to repair self-control.1

“These findings extend our understanding of how interventions can change future discounting as a measure of self-control,” said Bickel. “A simple cognitive test that measures the degree to which individuals live in the moment might help us personalize treatments for their addictions.”1



[1] Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University). (2014, March 31). Addicts Who Live in the Moment May Get Most Benefit From Certain Kinds of Treatment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 4, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331083601.htm

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