Episodic Future Thinking: Expansion of the Temporal Window in Individuals with Alcohol Dependence

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Abstract

Background:

Episodic future thinking (EFT) requires an individual to vividly pre-experience a realistic future event. Inspired by previous reports of reducing delay discounting following EFT in other populations, we examined the effects of engaging alcohol-dependent individuals in EFT or episodic recent thinking (ERT; control) to examine its effects on delay discounting and alcohol purchasing.

Methods:

Participants (n = 50) with alcohol dependence were allocated into EFT or ERT groups and asked to generate positive future or recent past events for each of 5 time points. Participants then completed a delay-discounting task, during which event cues were displayed, and a hypothetical alcohol purchase task.

Results:

EFT significantly increased valuation of future monetary rewards, while decreasing initial consumption (Q0) of alcoholic drinks indicative of lower demand intensity. Two additional findings suggest potential moderators of this effect. EFT more readily influenced individuals with lower Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test scores, and self-reported cue valence differed between groups.

Conclusions:

Together, these results suggest a widening of alcohol-dependent individuals’ temporal window following engagement of EFT. While our data suggest that EFT may be moderated by certain susceptibility criteria, exercises such as EFT could be easily adaptable as a potential therapeutic tool for use in rehabilitation programs.

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