Delayed Reward Discounting in Alcohol Abuse
Rudy E. Vuchinich, Cathy A. Simpson
NBER Working Paper No. 6410
This paper summarizes studies that investigated the relation between temporal discounting and alcohol consumption. The first study compared heavy and light social drinkers, and the second study compared problem and light drinkers, on the degree to which they discounted the value of (hypothetical) amounts of money available after a series of delays. Heavy social drinkers and problem drinkers both showed higher rates of temporal discounting than light drinkers, and this difference was stronger in the second study. Both of these laboratory studies found that a hyperbolic function more accurately described temporal discounting than an exponential function. A third study evaluated predictors of relapse and continued resolution in problem drinkers who attempted to quit problem drinking without treatment. The outcome groups were distinguished by the preresolution proportions of discretionary expenditures they allocated to alcohol and savings. The data from these studies are consistent with extending behavioral theories of intertemporal choice to characterizing the determinants of alcohol consumption; they also are consistent with more general behavioral economic and economic theories of addiction that predict a positive relation between temporal discounting and addiction.