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Cocaine addicts prefer money in hand to drugs of greater value later

August 12, 2011 - Washington

A study has found that when cocaine addicts were asked to choose between money in hand or cocaine of greater value at a later time, they always preferred the money.

Warren K. Bickel, professor in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center, and professor of psychology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, said "preference was almost exclusively for the money now".

Cocaine addicts have always been portrayed as people who will do anything to get their drug, but research led by Bickel suggests cocaine is strongly valued only when it is immediately available.

"When it is available later, it is not worth very much," he said.

The finding is good news for developing drug treatment programs based on incentives for delaying drug use, he said.

"In real life, important choices for those with addiction depend on making decisions across commodities, such as cigarettes now or money later," said Bickel.

"In the money now-cocaine later choices, participants soon became indifferent to future cocaine amounts, preferring immediate money even when the value of the future cocaine was significantly greater.

"That is, cocaine is discounted more steeply than money," Bickel stated.

However, when the immediate reward was the drug and the future reward was money, the decline was less steep.

"It took longer for the future money to lose favour compared to a lesser value of cocaine," Bickel added.


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