Differential Relations Between Delay Discounting and Distress Tolerance as a Function of Opportunity Cost and Alcohol Use

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Delay discounting refers to one process by which an individual devalues delayed outcomes. Typical discounting tasks provide no information about events during delays to larger-later rewards. Imposing opportunity costs during the delay increases how steeply delayed rewards are discounted (P. S. Johnson, Herrmann, & Johnson, 2015). The present research evaluated whether distress tolerance (i.e., one’s ability to tolerate distressing emotions and events) is related to discounting rates when opportunity costs are low, high, or unspecified. In a sample of predominantly female college students, we partially replicated that delay discounting was related to distress tolerance when opportunity costs were unspecified (significant relations confined to particular facets of distress tolerance), but distress tolerance was not related to delay discounting when opportunity costs were specified as low or high. The nature of the relation between distress tolerance and discounting when opportunity costs were unspecified was clarified by a significant interaction between alcohol use and distress tolerance; distress tolerance was unrelated to delay discounting except among participants with problematic alcohol use. Further research is needed to characterize relations between alcohol use, distress tolerance, and delay discounting and inform prevention and treatment efforts in at-risk populations.

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