Since the 1960s, IU Professor Peter Finn has wondered why people use drugs. As a doctor in psychology, Finn set out to find the differences between the minds of those who abuse substances and those who do not.
In 2002, Finn received a grant of $1.3 million from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
He was able to conduct the study with the grants. Finn gathered data on 500 subjects ages 18 to 25. He found that people who abuse drugs and alcohol have a hard time effectively directing their attention.
“An impulsive individual tends to focus on the immediate,” Finn said.
“A good decision involves thinking about now, then thinking about tomorrow, then coming back and thinking about now and how one’s behavior may affect tomorrow. Individuals who have a hard time shifting their attention back and forth seem not to do as well at inhibiting their behavior.”
In 2009, Finn wrote a new study to further build on the 2002 study. This time he received a grant of $1.9 million from the National Institutes of Health. The study is currently in progress.
Subjects are tested on their ability to direct their attention and make decisions regarding present or future benefit. For example, subjects are asked if they would rather have $50 now or $100 in six months. Then, $80 now or $100 in six months. In psychology, this is called the delayed discounting task, Finn said. He also used several other psychological tasks in the study.
Finn said he believes this can lead to better treatment for addicts in the future.
“All scientific discoveries are really for the public good,” Finn said. “The more we know about the world around us, and in this case, people’s behavior with regards to substance use and abuse, the better off we are. Ultimately, I hope that the results of this study will help us design interventions that may help in the treatment of substance abuse and related disorders.”