How Memory Could Help the Future of Drug Users

People who are dependent on drugs often are thinking about the future, meaning their next drug fix, but not about the long-range future. For many addicts, their over-all health and what harm past drug use might cause is not what is on their minds. Future or delay discounting, is the human behavior where people tend to choose instant gratification over a later, perhaps much better, benefit. This is not at all uncommon with drug dependency.

The failure of being able to use self-control and recognized future consequences is common in drug dependent persons, exerting strong influence on their ability to make good decisions. As it turns out, people may find hope in new therapy approaches because of their tendency to “live in the moment” and not the future.

In a study in Clinical Psychological Science done at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, researchers found that future discounting might be used in behavioral change. Professor Warren Bickel made an observation that had big implications.

“It was an incongruity in our data that caught my eye,” said Bickel. “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. And the ones who discounted the future the least improved the least.”

Data was analyzed from five previous studies involving 222 participants addicted to heroin, tobacco, or stimulants. The results showed that future discounting does indeed change in a rate-dependent manner. This was not expected.

Participants who are more concerned about future consequences showed little change in how much they delayed gratification, but those who tend to live in the moment showed large reductions in how much they discounted the future.

More tellingly, the treatments caused the greatest drop in substance use among people who had begun with the highest rates of future discounting.

Research has demonstrated how certain mental process were associated with memory and that it is possible to train our brains to help repair self-control issues. Enhancing working memory proved to be effective in treating problems with self-control of some drug dependent abusers. This is great news in the development of new therapy techniques and treatments for addicts.

“A simple cognitive test that measures the degree to which individuals live in the moment might help us personalize treatments for their addictions,” said Bickel.

It is very important to find the appropriate treatment for each individual in order to effectively help control addiction. Personalized treatment is essential in dealing with any addiction.