Monday, March 31, 2014

From Tech's Bickel, Another Key Finding on Addiction

VTC's Warren Bickel
Virginia Tech-Carilion researcher Warren Bickel continues to turn addiction research on its head in a way that offers hope for many. Bickel's research had previously shown that addicted people tend to discount the future and look to the short-term of their lives for gratification.

This is an area that especially interests me because of my own history with addiction and recovery.

Now, Bickel and an international team of researchers, which he leads, believe they could have broken through in the area of treatment for certain types of dependencies, according to an article in Clinical Psychological Science. “It was an incongruity in our data that caught my eye,” Bickel says. “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.”

Bickel says the study is likely the first to identify measurable change in decision-making among addicts. “A simple cognitive test that measures the degree to which individuals live in the moment might help us personalize treatments for their addictions,” he said. Those who least consider future are likely the ones to benefit the most from certain treatments. Bickel notes that it is human instinct to choose instant gratification (a drug high, for example) over benefits that may come later (good health). That's known as future or delay discounting and it is stronger in addicts.

Bickel and his team believe there is "an inverse relationship between people’s rates of responding to something at the outset and then again after an intervention. 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.”

Study results show that "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."

Effective treatment involved training a subject’s working memory. “These findings extend our understanding of how interventions can change future discounting as a measure of self-control,” said Bickel.

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