Study suggests living in the moment can help recovery efforts

April 29, 2014

Researchers have been exploring various aspects of recovery ever since the first addiction treatment centers opened their doors. Innumerable surveys, reports and studies have tried to pinpoint as many helpful tips about recovery as they could in the hopes that those struggling to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol may have a better chance at achieving long-term sobriety.
Many of these researchers have attempted to synthesize new medications or formulate unique treatments that could aid those with a history of substance abuse, but a new study from scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Addiction Recovery Research Center suggests that the potential for a complete and lasting recovery comes not from any external source, but from the mental outlook of those working toward sobriety. According to the study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, people who tend to focus more on day-to-day activities and live in the moment have a higher chance of a successful recovery process and long-term sobriety.

A new meaning for day by day

Warren Bickel, professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Virginia Tech and lead author of the study, investigated the concept known as “future discounting” in 222 people who were heavy users of stimulants, heroin and tobacco. Future discounting, Bickel explained in the study, is a psychological concept more commonly known as instant gratification, where a person opts for an immediate pathway to happiness that may have negative effects in the future.
Bickel and his colleagues saw high rates of future discounting behaviors in many of the 222 participants, and their initial prediction was that these people would see the least benefit from a cohesive treatment plan designed to help them quit their drug habits. In fact, the study speculated that these behaviors were a primary cause for developing substance abuse issues in the first place, as the instant high of a drug followed by many resultant issues is a classic case of future discounting.
Contrary to their beliefs, however, Bickel and his colleagues found that participants with high rates of these behaviors actually changed their drug use habits the most.
“It was an incongruity in our data that caught my eye,” Bickel said in a statement. “I realized that the people who discounted the future the most – the ones we least expected to be able to recover from addiction – also showed the best outcomes when they received an effective treatment. And the ones who discounted the future the least improved the least.”
By identifying the level of instant gratification that people in recovery trend toward, Bickel believed that more accurate treatment programs can be formulated.

“A simple cognitive test that measures the degree to which individuals live in the moment might help us personalize treatments for their addictions,” Bickel said.

Daily tips for a successful recovery

It is important to note that each of the participants who achieved long-term success in his or her recovery efforts received comprehensive treatment at one of a number of nearby rehab centers. While a certain mental predisposition may make it easier for some people to achieve extended sobriety, learning effective methods from professional counselors and therapists is often the best way to ensure a healthier life.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outlined several ways that those in recovery can develop daily routines and practices to keep them focused on the here and now of their health. Maintaining a well-functioning body is crucial to feeling good after quitting a habit of substance abuse, and making a list of daily tasks such as foods to eat and exercises to do can keep the mind focused on completing these things. Also, checking in with a friend or a support group member every day can help a person not lose sight of the daily struggle before him or her.

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