Researchers conducted an experiment with 47 cocaine addicts to test their preferences when it comes to money or drugs. The expectation was that the addicts would choose cocaine, even a lesser amount, over money. That's not quite what happened.
Forty-seven cocaine addicts (who were all seeking treatment) were asked to guess the number of grams of cocaine worth $1,000. They were each then given a series of choices: cocaine now versus more cocaine later; money now versus more money later; cocaine now versus money later; or money now versus cocaine later. The initial amount offered for the immediate choice has half of the full value, and the delayed amount was always the full value. Preference was almost exclusively given to the money now option, according to the study’s lead researcher, Warren K. Bickel, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, and director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center there.It turns out that addicts prefer cash in hand over a stash of drugs - even if that cash is less than half the value of the cocaine offered in the future.
The addicts wanted their prize - and they wanted it now. It didn't matter to them whether they were paying a steep price for the privilege of having the cash or coke in their hands now. It would seem that this finding dovetails nicely with the new definition of addiction offered by the American Society for Addiction Medicine.
When we think rationally, we look at both the present value and future value of any given choice. If the future value is greater than the present value plus opportunity cost, we're more than happy to bide our time. If the equation works out the other way, carpe diem, baby.
With the addict, however, there is no consideration of the future. It's now! now! now! The addict has lost the ability to reason and to calculate which option offers the biggest reward. He is living in the present without the slightest conception of the future.
Does that give us a clue on how to fight addiction? With our jails and prisons being filled with more and more addicts, maybe it's about time we reconsider how we deal with addiction.