How Do Addicts Make Decisions?
Most, if not all, addicts and alcoholics struggle with quitting and staying sober. And many have an equally hard time understanding why. What if would-be recovering addicts and alcoholics knew more about what goes into the making decisions—and how setting and achieving goals, and putting value on rewards, goes wrong in addiction? Learning about the economics of decision-making will not only make life in recovery easier, but it could mean the difference between relapse and long-term sobriety.
The concept of temporal discounting is not new. In fact, it can be traced back to the earliest philosophers. In temporal discounting, people put less value on more distant rewards. “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush,” as the saying goes—the distant, seemingly-uncertain reward, even while greater, appears less valuable than the more immediate, certain one.
Many studies have shown that addicted people show higher temporal discount rates.And that’s at the crux of a substance use disorder. If all the reward from using heroin, let’s say, came 20 years down the road, and the problems with relationships, or the law, came immediately, addiction wouldn’t exist in the same form as it does now. “The immediacy [of the reward] is integral to the problem of addiction,” says Dr. John Monterosso, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of an intriguing article with Dr. George Ainslie on the behavioral economics of will in recovery.