A new study out of Columbia University recently set out to find out just how gripping addiction can be – and whether or not anything is more powerful when someone is in the throes of active drug dependence.

According to the New York Times, Dr. Carl Hart’s research may have demonstrated that reason may still be active in some addicts, namely those who are not physically dependent upon their drug of choice. For those who struggle with stimulants like crack, cocaine and methamphetamine, the psychological addiction is most gripping.

The Study

Dr. Hart put an advertisement in the newspaper asking for participants who were willing to make $950 while smoking cocaine made from pharmaceutical grade cocaine for several weeks. The respondents were mostly African American from lower income families.

Several times during the study each day, each participant was offered the choice between a hit of crack and the option of choosing cash or a voucher. Hart found that when the dose of crack was smaller, many participants were more likely to opt for $5 in cash or a $5 voucher for merchandise.

Said Dr. Hart, “80 to 90 percent of people who use crack and methamphetamine don’t get addicted. And the small number who do become addicted are nothing like the popular caricatures.”

Participants were blindfolded while smoking their doses so they could not see the size. When the dose was larger first thing in the morning, the participant was more likely to choose to keep smoking crack throughout the day. When it was lower, the participant would usually opt for the money.

Dr. Hart said: “They didn’t fit the caricature of the drug addict who can’t stop once he gets a taste. When they were given an alternative to crack, they made rational economic decisions.”

Additionally, choosing the cash or voucher meant delayed gratification. Rather than getting the instant reward of smoking a hit of crack, the participants knew that the cash or vouchers were to be saved up until they exited the program; it offered them no relief or reward in the present moment. Also, when the cash prize was raised from $5 to $20, every single participant opted for the cash instead of the hit of crack, no matter how large their previous dose.

Making Good Choices

A big focus in recovery is learning how to look at the situation directly in front of you and make the best possible choice for your future. Often, addicts in recovery are faced with the choice of getting high or sticking to their recovery and reaping other, less instantaneous rewards. It’s not an easy choice, and an intensive recovery program that helps patients to learn to delay gratification and control impulse behavior can ultimately aid in relapse prevention down the road.

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