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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