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Memory Training May Provide New Techniques For Addiction Counseling


While debate continues as to whether addiction and compulsion are biological or environmental, inevitable or a choice, one fact remains: those who struggle with addiction need and deserve a chance to get better. But the various strategies used in addiction counseling and therapy are just as complex as the factors contributing to addiction in the first place. Comprehensive treatment programs may combine physical health and wellness (diet, exercise), spiritual practices (prayer, meditation), and emotional and social reflection (psychotherapy). These are in addition to the practical considerations of the addiction itself, which can include detoxification periods and substance-specific medical needs (e.g. dental problems, liver disease). Both individual therapy and group counseling can be part of the recovery and maintenance program for addictions and compulsions.

Academic researchers are continually providing new insight into addictions and compulsions: insight which therapists and counselors can use to develop therapeutic techniques. This month, the journal Biological Psychiatry is publishing exactly such a study. Researchers had noticed that people who suffer from addiction often have a hard time with choosing delayed gratification over immediate gain, even if the delayed reward is be greater than the short-term benefit. In other words, they prize their current self more than their future self because their current self feels more real and more important.

It’s difficult to help people to think of their future selves more clearly, so the authors of this particular study looked at the problem from a different angle. Instead of focusing specifically on the ability to appreciate the future, why not focus on the mental strength of connecting now with other time periods in general? They did so by focusing on the past. Study participants who completed memory training exercises did, as a result, end up placing a greater value on future rewards than they had before going through the memory training. It will take awhile for the logistics and ramifications of this insight to be explored and modified for therapy purposes, but it’s very likely that it will one day contribute to new methods used by addiction-focused therapists.

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  • laura February 2nd, 2011 at 11:08 AM #1

    although very tempting,not being able to resist instant gain can become a big problem for not only an addict but for anyone.
    being able to resist it and look forward to something greater that is almost assured in the near future( quitting is assured) is a good way forward for addicts.

  • k€n February 2nd, 2011 at 11:54 PM #2

    Its much simpler than prizing-your-future-self-more if you ask me…what these memory exercises do is that they grab the minds of the addicts and slowly stop then from craving for their addictive substance,thereby reducing and maybe eventually even ceasing the addiction!

  • Sarah February 3rd, 2011 at 5:40 AM #3

    I am so happy to read that there continues to be ongoing efforts within the mental health field and academic world to find new and better ways to treat addictions. Maybe this begins as a choice for some but once this addiction takes root there really is no choice anymore and giving addicts new ways to deal with this in life is a very commendable cause. Some act like addicts are no good and deserve to be put on the shelf and thrown away but life is much too precious for that. I am glad to hear that meaningful therapy is indeed a possibility for those who suffer with addictions, and that there continues to be a push for learning and growth in this treatment field.

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