Money or cocaine? It all depends on timing

People who are looking for treatment for their cocaine addiction still really like cocaine, but they’ll choose money as an immediate reward if they can only get their drug of choice later.

Cocaine or money? Depends on how long the wait is

Although it might be somewhat surprising, the above finding is the result of a recent study by a team of researchers spanning the U.S. and Australia that was recently published in the journal Psychophramacology.

We’ve talked about the concept of relatively high impulsivity among addicts on A3 before and the concept isn’t a new one — Addicts make drug-focused choices in the short term even if there are larger rewards far off in the horizon. In fact, this sort of delay-discounting (considering future rewards as being worth less) is a general human phenomenon that has simply been found to be exaggerated among addicts.

Think about it – Would you prefer $50 now or $1000 in 6 year? What about $100 now?

By asking a set of similar questions researchers can determine an individuals discounting rate or the amount of discounting people put on the delay in getting the later reward. Up to now, most of this sort of research has been conducted using the same “now” and “later” rewards. People were asked to decide between money now or later, cocaine now or later, cigarettes, meth… you get it.

This recent study made things more interesting by creating a few different conditions:

  1. Money now Versus Money later
  2. Cocaine now Versus Cocaine later
  3. Money now Versus Cocaine later
  4. Cocaine now Versus Money later

The goal was to see if people discount money and drugs equally. Since one of the hallmarks of addiction is that addicts seem to undervalue everything else while overvaluing drugs, figuring out whether bringing delay into the mix was at the least interesting but at best possibly useful in treatment.

The researcher used participants who were actively looking for cocaine treatment and ended up with a relatively small sample of 47 individuals who met criteria for cocaine addiction. As is usually the case with these sorts of studies, most of the participants were men, the average education equaled high-school and the average age was early 40s.

Participants were asked how many grams of cocaine a $1000 was worth and that unique number was used for each participant as the equal point between money and drug. Then they were presented with options such as the above (X number of dollars now or X number of dollars in six months).  As participants made selections, the immediate amount was changed by 50% to counter their choice (it was reduced if they chose immediate and increased if they chose delayed rewards) and the procedure repeated six times for each of seven different delay periods (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, and 25 years).

So, let’s say a participant was first asked if they wanted $500 now or 20 grams of cocaine. If they chose cocaine, their next choice would be $750 now or 20 grams of cocaine later; now if they chose money, the choices became $375 now or 20 grams of cocaine later… and on the experiment went.

Cocaine addicts choose cocaine if they can get it now, but not later

First of all, it’s important to note that the research showed that different participants had pretty stable discounting characteristics. That is, if a participant preferred to get things now rather than later, that was likely true across all conditions regardless of whether the reward was drugs or money. However, the different rewards also had a large influence on this equation.

The main finding from this study was that when faced with the option, cocaine addicts chose immediate money over later cocaine even if the immediate money amount was relatively low. That finding might seem surprising at first given what we think we know about addicts. Aren’t they supposed to always choose drugs regardless of what else we put in front of them?

Apparently, what matters is not only what we put in front of them but also when. Of course, anyone who actually knows an addict (or is one themselves) already understands that trying to simplify addiction to an ability to only choose drugs is silly. Addicts would die of starvation or a host of other issues pretty quickly if that was true. Addiction is much more nuanced than that, and as I mention at the end of this piece, this finding might not be as clear as one might think.

In fact, this finding has already been greatly supported by at least one addiction treatment tactic that we’ve discussed here on A3 – Contingency Management (CM). In CM, individuals in treatment are rewarded for staying clean and doing well in treatment. They’re not given cash but instead are rewarded with vouchers that let them buy food, clothes, etc. for providing drug-free urine tests and going to their assigned group meetings. This addiction treatment method follows the basic tenant of the psychology of learning – people do what they’re rewarded to do. This study offers a fresh perspective on the matter, suggesting that one of the reasons people do well and stay longer in treatment when given CM is that the immediate money reward is thought to be worth more than the possibility of getting drugs later. It might also explain why CM has only really been shown to work well while people are in treatment and not when they leave…

I mentioned earlier that I think these findings may be a little more complicated than they first seem. One of the major issues I have with this study stems from my life as a drug dealer. The users I know quickly equate money with drugs and so it is very possible that in their minds money now also equals cocaine now, although a smaller amount of it and they’ll take whatever drug they can get now instead of having to wait for it. Most regular users I’ve met would easily choose a single gram of meth now instead of 4 or 5 in 6 months. They simply don’t want to wait that long to get high. Money holds its value much better in the long run and this research supports that idea.

Citation:

Bickel, Landes, Christensen, Jackson, Jones, Kurth-Nelson, Redish (2011). Single- and cross-commodity discounting among cocaine addicts: the commodity and its temporal location determine discounting rate, Psychopharmacology

The music must change! Obsesssion, compulsion, shame an guilt in addiction

Guest co-author: Jeff Brandler from Changeispossible.org

The nature of addiction is one of obsession and compulsion. Regardless of the substance, behavior, or process, the addicted person will continue to obsess (countless and endless thoughts) and have compulsions (repetitive actions). They will repeat this obsession-compulsion ritual over and over.

music-sheetImagine a radio station that plays the same song over and over. Imagine that song being a steady diet of thoughts, and feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing (GSRSL). Imagine an endless supply of obsessive thinking and compulsive replays of the thing(s) that the addict did to start the song playing.

People get involved in all kinds of self-defeating/self destructive behaviors. There are numerous reasons for this. The top ones that I see are: addictive disorders, mood disorders, self-sabotaging behavioral and personality traits. The GSRSL is a constant loop. It never stops. The problem with it never stopping is that it creates more GSRSL. The more GSRSL, the greater the need for the behavior. The more behavior that happens, the more GSRSL that you need and so on and so on. Does your head feel like it wants to explode?

Obsession and Compulsion – An example

Let’s say I had a fight with my spouse. I decide to smoke a joint in order to relax, escape, or unwind. Afterwards, I feel a lot of GSRSL. I have guilty thoughts, feel embarrassed and shameful. I have remorse for what I did, and beat myself up unmercifully. So what do I do in order to stop this behavior? You got it, smoke another joint, or maybe have a drink, only to feel more GSRSL. In doing so I then have the trifecta GSRSL of before, during and after-The music must definitely change!!!!

Or, imagine an alcoholic who receive a 3rd DWI citation after finally getting his license back following a 2 year suspension for his previous offenses. That’s some serious GSRSL. I have the most recent driving incident plus the 2 years where I lost my license swirling around my head like a blender. Talk about a bad song!!!! Please change the music!!!!

How does a person change this music?

It’s easy to change a radio station, but something that is so ingrained, so obsessive & compulsive is going to be much harder to change. Part of stopping this music is recognizing: 1) this is going to be hard to do 2) that I have been doing this for a while, and 3) it’s going to take some time to stop it. The key word that describes this is permission – I have to give myself permission to take the time that it’s going to take to make this major change. I’m also going to need to use a variety of approaches to change these thoughts and feelings (i.e. thought stopping, disputing irrational beliefs, identifying affirmations, (and using them regularly), and finding gratitude despite the pain).

Using this total package will be a first step towards change. It begins a long process of turning down the GSRSL music . I may need to also speak to a therapist to examine why I do these behaviors and what they are “wired” to. If in fact there is something biologically based, there may be a need for medication to “tune” these thoughts/feelings into healthier ones. Yes the music can change– It can go from “Comfortably Numb” to “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The process of change is possible, but it’s going to take time and hard work.

Alcoholism , Sniffing Bath Salts, and Prescription Medication Abuse

If you care about addiction you’re going to want to read our weekly update from across the globe. It’ll make you smarter – promise (at least when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse issues)!

Drug Abuse – Vaccines to treat addictions, and Sniffing Bath Salts

Medical News Today-A biochemical breakthrough by researchers at Cornell  produces a unique vaccine that combines bits of the common cold virus with a particle that mimics cocaine. Researchers believe the vaccine could be tailored to treat other addictions, such as to nicotine, heroin, and methamphetamine. While similar to other vaccine discussions we’ve had here, the method and generalizability here are of specific interest.

BBC News-Publicity of scholastic journals back fired on Dr. David E. Nichols as drug makers profit off his research findings. Dr. Nichols says while some drugs can be manufactured in the kitchen the scale to which these “legal high” drugs are produced indicates some small companies are involved.

Fox News.com– A new “drug abuse” trend of sniffing bath salts to try to get high is emerging in Louisiana and is creating a issue for the Louisiana Poison Center. It appears that more kids are attempting this “trend” resulting in of paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, as well as hypertension and chest pain. The problem’s gotten so bad in the state that the Governor had to make the active ingredient in the bath salts illegal. The bath salts contain a chemical called “Mephadrone and Methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV, which is known to be a stimulant that may also cause paranoia and hostility.

Alcoholism – Studies and Personal Stories about alcohol

Science Daily- A new study has been conducted which shows that midlife alcohol consumption may be related to dementia which is often assessed about 20 years later. The study found that both abstainers and heavy drinkers had a greater risk for dementia and cognitive impairment than light drinkers. Again, it seems that drinking no-alcohol is associated with risk factors and outcomes that are not as ideal as moderate consumption and somewhat similar to heavy drinking.

Counselor Magazine Blog- Everyone loves watching a good and inspirational movie from time to time. The new movie “Country Strong” deals with many issues that everyday individuals face such as alcoholism, mental illness, co-dependency, ageism, and grief. These are elements that a person goes through when they are dealing with alcoholism. The movie depicts that alcoholism is a family disease and does not affect just the alcoholic. Another great point that the movie shows is that if there are underlying issues that are often not resolved that relapse is very common.

Prescription Drug abuse and death

Reuters- A new study has found that an increasing amount of individuals are dying from abusing and misusing prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs. In recent times deaths from “accidental poisonings” or overdose are more than ten times higher than they were in the late 1960s. This increase in drug deaths is higher across almost all age groups than it was in previous decades, especially amongst white Americans.

Chicago Sun Times- Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in our country, and deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in the US have increased five-fold over the last two decades. The drugs that are commonly causing these deaths are particularly painkillers such as OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone) and fentanyl. What many individuals do not realize is prescription drugs can be much more deadly than illegal drugs. In 2007 alone, abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. Prescription painkillers, most of which are opioids, are synthetic versions of opium used to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain, however in large and excessive quantities, they can suppress a person’s ability to breathe and are very dangerous when they are mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Addiction Treatment Admissions in the United States: Everyone, meet TEDS

Dirk Hanson

What a difference a decade makes.

Do you know what drug use trends are ongoing?Between 1998 and 2008, addiction treatment admissions in the U.S. increased markedly for methamphetamine (crystal meth), prescription opiates, and marijuana. Treatment admissions for alcohol and cocaine declined over the same period, while heroin admissions remained roughly the same.

The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses to compile its report, includes only those addiction treatment facilities that receive state alcohol or drug agency funds, and which are represented in state administrative data systems. Despite this caveat, the TEDS study matters, because states use reports of this kind to shift limited resources from one treatment focus to another, based on demand. Continue reading “Addiction Treatment Admissions in the United States: Everyone, meet TEDS”

Harm reduction – Why the bad press for addiction treatment that works?!

condoms can help protect again STDs

How many of you think that giving a crystal meth user condoms will increase their drug use? Probably not many. What if instead the question had to do with giving that same user clean needles rather than having them share a dirty one? Or having him reduce his drug use instead of stopping completely? I bet there would be a little more disagreement there.

Some of you may have heard of the harm-reduction approach to drug abuse counseling and treatment, but many of you likely haven’t because the term itself is essentially taboo in the United States. The idea is to approach the patient (or client) without the shaming or expectations of abstinence that normally come with drug treatment. Instead, the counselors hope to reduce as much of the negative things associated with the drug use.

For example, almost all drug injecting users end up with hepatitis C due to dirty-needle sharing. As in the above example, harm reduction practitioners would seek to provide users with clean needles, thereby reducing needle sharing and the transmission of disease. Risky sexual behavior is often associated with methamphetamine, and crack use; instead of targeting the use itself, often, interventions attempt to reduce unprotected sex, reducing HIV transmission in the process.

hypodermic-needleHarm reduction has many supporters, but unfortunately, there are at least as many people who are against it. The claim is that harm reduction doesn’t stop drug use, and that we shouldn’t be in the business of making drug use easier. In fact, though they have no data to support it, some people argue that giving users clean needles is likely to exacerbate their drug use. My argument is that life as a drug user is pretty difficult as is, and if we can provide a way to show drug addicts that people actually care about their well-being, we might help some of them see the light.

Even more to the point, my thinking is that HIV, Hepatitis C, and other conditions often helped by harm-reduction, have to be considered as additional societal costs of drug abuse. If harm reduction helps us tackle those collateral costs, I’m all for it as an additional tool.

The bottom line is this: If we can use multiple tools to solve a problem, why limit ourselves unnecessarily to only one? If harm reduction helps, why not use it in conjunction with abstinence treatment?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s time for us to stop resorting to ridiculous moral judgments and start focusing on solving the problem. If we can help an addict use less, use fewer drugs, or use more responsibly, I say we should go for it!!!

About Addiction: Prescription drugs, Alcohol prices, and prevention among teens

You know you care about addiction, and you know you love reading addiction news and research – A3 does it all for you and gathers things up in a nice little package we call our weekly “about addiction” post. It’s the fastest way to get the information you want, even if you didn’t know it was out there!

Prescription Drugs, drug safety, and sales

Reuters– Walgreen’s offers its customers a convenient way of disposing of their prescription drugs. This allows individuals to safely dispose of unwanted or expired drugs. The way that the program works is to place the unwanted prescription drugs in an envelope and send it to a medication incinerator. Controlled substances however are excluded from the program, I guess they’re afraid of bags of heroin and cocaine showing up at Walgreen offices?

Wales online– After being bugged to see if a man was in possession of illegal drugs, a number of men were sentenced to 48 years in jail for selling heroin. This undercover investigation lasted for six months, revealing a magnificent economy of drug use, abuse and profit.

Discovery News– Authorities discovered that eight illicit drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamines, were detectable in the waterways of a Spanish national park. They’re worried about the threat of the drugs’ side effects to animals, but I have to say it makes me wonder why so many drug addicts are dumping their drugs there…

Alcohol Prices

Telegraph (U.K.)– A “price fixing”  system for alcohol prices has been suggested in the U.K., which is supposed to help reduce binge drinking encouraged by bottom priced alcohol. Economics experts in England suggest that all the policy will likely do will be increase profits for store that sell cheap alcohol. If our work here is any indication though, driving alcohol price up (as much as 100% in some stores) will certainly have an effect on some drinkers.

Health DayTax increases in alcohol prices may aid in alleviating alcohol problems. A study was conducted which showed that increasing the alcohol prices will result in significant reductions in many of the undesirable outcomes associated with drinking. So next time you go to buy alcohol and the price is too high just think of all the help you’re providing the community.

Addiction interventions and addiction treatment of teens

Time to act!- Perhaps one of the most important ways to prevent an addiction from happening is to catch it in its early stages and prevent it from ever developing. This website promotes primary prevention of as a means of addiction intervention and urges parents to act as soon as possible if you think your child is using drugs or alcohol.

DBtechno– Children who have regular meals are less likely to drink (read our coverage of teen drinking). This was attributed to parents having better, more consistent, interactions with their children at the dinner table. Kids who did not eat regular meals were twice as likely to drink and use cigarettes. Talk about a great way at starting on an addiction intervention early on in life – a nice relaxing dinner, and maybe some dessert…

ABC News– This article tells of the ill effects that alcohol can have to a child when alcohol is consumed during pregnancy. It tells the story of one family who could not stand their child’s “out of control behavior” likely brought on by FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Read All About Addiction’s coverage of drinking during pregnancy.

Addiction Inbox– A great article using Dock Ellis’ perspective on LSD. Ellis is now speaking to inmates in correctional facilities, telling his story of how he was addicted to drugs and alcohol while playing baseball.

About Addiction: DUI, Psychedelics, Smoke, and the Brain!

You know it and love it – here is our weekly post about addiction research, news, and more interesting tidbits from the wonderful world of the internet. I guarantee you’ll know more about addiction, drugs, and the brain, after reading it!

DUI because you think you’re sober? Check your BAC

Science Daily– A study found that people recover their subjective feeling of sobriety before they recover functions important for driving, showing that the perception of intoxication is a bad indicator of ability to drive. A BAC of 0.02 doubles the relative risk of a motor vehicle crash among 16- to 20-year old males and this increases to nearly 52 times when the BAC is between 0.08 percent and 0.10 percent. It seems that portable BAC monitors might be a good idea to reduce DUI accidents.

Psychedelics and High-Tech Pills

Common Dreams– Scientists are giving psychedelics another look as a possible tool in psychotherapy. Many psychedelics like LSD and MDMA have been used in psychological-treatment settings before and the Swiss apparently think we should be giving them another turn. The researchers there focus on the effects of psychedelics on the brain systems involved in depression mainly. Who knows, maybe you’ll be given a little LSD or MDMA pill before beginning a weekly therapy session in the future. Probably not in the U.S. though…

Magic “smart” pill– How wonderful would it be if there was technology that alerted you as to when you are supposed to take a pill? A “smart pill” which would text individuals when they need to take it is being tested in the UK, so it may be a reality in the future! Just think about it, all those people who have to take some sort of ADHD pill won’t forget now that their pill sends signals to their phone – “Don’t forget to take meeeee!!!”

Cigarette Smoke

Science Daily– According to physician-scientists at New York-Presbyterian Hospital exposure to even low-levels of cigarette smoke, including second hand smoke, may put people at risk for future lung disease such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While research showing that second hand smoke is dangerous isn’t new, this new group showed alterations in the genetic functioning of cells in the airway of those exposed. The researchers do point out that the alterations are less pronounced than in heavy smokers but say that even such low levels of smoke exposure can increase disease risk.

Brain Chemistry and regulation of cocaine intake

NIDA–  A regulatory protein, called MeCP2, that is found in the brain and best known for its role in a rare genetic brain disorder may play a critical role in cocaine addiction by regulating cocaine intake and perhaps in determining vulnerability to addiction. The researchers here found a complement to earlier NIDA research showing that as brain miRNA-212 levels increase, cocaine intake decrease. Apparently, it’s the balance between miRNA-212 and MeCP2 that is important.