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How We View the Future May Influence How We Recover from Alcohol Use

alcohol in glasses

How We View the Future May Influence How We Recover from Alcohol Use


A slow, long-term view towards life may be key to helping people recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD), a new study finds.

Alcohol use disorder is a worrying problem that ravages the United States, creating an estimated economic burden of $249 billion and 232 million missed workdays yearly. About 15 million American adults are battling alcohol addiction, so those statistics aren't surprising.

But even at that, patients often make attempts to go into recovery. We also know that recovery typically involves relapse -- moments of strong alcohol cravings. But a new study has shown that an AUD patient's decision-making habits and future outlook on life can help predict how they experience recovery.

People who have a slow but long-term view of life tend to make decisions based on those long-term views. They tend to care for their health, eat well, and avoid substances knowing the rewards of these decisions later in life. These persons generally exhibited positive economic, health, and personal development behaviors. During recovery, such persons also find it easier to abstain from drinking, knowing the long-term benefits they stand to gain, despite having moments of intense alcohol cravings.

On the other hand, people with a fast, short-term perspective on life tend to make decisions that reward them in the moment, such as alcohol use. As a result, they tend to neglect their future health and indulge in drinking for the momentary pleasure it offers. During recovery, they may readily give in to relapse and drink again to satisfy their brief craving. Also, they are more averse to saving since they long to spend money on whatever offers them short-term pleasure.

In both perspectives, decision-making is influenced by how far into the future the person can see. This influences their present choices, says the study's first author Liqa Athamneh, a postdoctoral associate.

Individuals who can envision themselves in their 70s-80s would want to make choices now that would benefit them in old age. Someone who can't look that far would tend to decide based on their present situation only.


The Research

Virginia Tech scientists examined alcohol use disorder recovery in 110 adults who had met the criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence in the International Quit and Recovery Registry, an online data collection site and forum developed at Virginia Tech in 2011.

The temporal window of integration -- how far into the future the individual can see -- was evaluated through a delay-discounting task. The participants were asked to choose between lower amounts of money in the short term and larger amounts in the longer term.

Participants who indicated a "fast short-term view" exhibited a shorter temporal window and excessive delay discounting. That is, the longer it takes for them to receive the reward (good health later in life), the lower they consider its value.

The research shows that delay discounting could be an excellent way to predict how AUD patients experience recovery.

Additionally, the researchers also studied the participants' past and current status as well as other health-related behaviors, such as physical activity, budgeting, safe driving, and drug use.


Final Words

When people live in unpredictable environments, they tend to favor short-term goals. They can't say what would happen or if they'd be alive in the next five years, so why care about long-term health benefits?

On the other hand, people in more supportive environments find it practical to prepare for the future through their current actions.

Therefore, it would be helpful if AUD interventions include strategies that expand the patient's future perspective.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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