Persons with addictive disorders tend to favor discrete choices involving less valuable, more immediate options (e.g., drinking) over engaging in behavior patterns with delayed positive consequences that are more valuable overall and more conducive to recovery. Behavioral economics provides new concepts and methods to study how the "time horizons" of problem drinkers serve to organize their behavior around present vs. future goals and whether these choice processes serve as a mechanism of change in recovery. This 5-year R01 application will evaluate whether changes in time horizons are temporally related to changes in drinking in community- dwelling problem drinkers who recently stopped excessive drinking on their own (N = 265). Use of a natural recovery sample will maximize variability in dimensions of interest and will address unsettled issues about non- abstinent resolutions, which are more common among natural than treatment-assisted recoveries. Participants will be enrolled soon after resolution onset when initial changes are unstable and relapse risk is high. Drinking problem severity, help-seeking history, and behavioral economic and other measures of time-sensitivity to delayed outcomes will be assessed at baseline, and then time horizon and drinking variables will be assessed prospectively at 3, 6, 9, and 12-months. Three hypotheses will be addressed: (1) Even when drinking heavily, are problem drinkers with greater sensitivity to longer term contingencies more likely to maintain stable resolutions? (2) Do drinkers who maintain stable non-abstinent resolutions organize their behavioral allocation over longer intervals compared to those who remain abstinent or relapse? (3) Do changes in sensitivity to delayed contingencies predict subsequent changes in drinking, including ability to reach and maintain non- abstinent resolutions? The first two hypotheses replicate and extend previous research on stable abstinent and non-abstinent resolutions. The third hypothesis addresses whether changes in time horizons precede changes in drinking and will evaluate the time horizon construct as a potential mechanism of change. The study also will establish how the multiple time sensitivity measures inter-relate and change over time, which will inform method selection in clinical and public health settings. To our knowledge, the study offers the first longitudinal multivariate evaluation of whether changes in time horizons are temporally related to changes in drinking among recently resolved problem drinkers. In addition to elucidating mechanisms of change, the results have potential for increasing the appeal and population impact of services for alcohol problems.
The pathways, processes, and mechanisms of change by which problem drinkers resolve their alcohol-related problems will be investigated prospectively using a large, diverse community sample of problem drinkers who recently stopped excessive drinking on their own. Most problem drinkers do not seek help, many recover on their own, and studying natural recoveries has potential for increasing the appeal, effectiveness, and population impact of services for alcohol-related problems. The proposed research will focus on drinkers'"time horizons," or the extent to which they organize their behavior around present vs. future goals, because successful recoveries likely involve a shift from a shorter to a longer view of the future and organizing behavior accordingly.
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