Discounting of delayed hypothetical money, alcohol, and food

Behav Processes. 2003 Oct 31;64(3):305-313. doi: 10.1016/s0376-6357(03)00145-1.


For drug-dependent individuals, drugs of abuse that are delayed in time are discounted more steeply than money delayed in time in a hypothetical choice task. The reasons for this finding are not clear. This study examined whether steep discounting of drugs relative to money might be related to the function of drugs as primary/consumable reinforcers and money as a conditioned/non-consumable reinforcer. Twenty adults with no self-reported problems with money, alcohol, or food participated. They indicated their preferences for three hypothetical outcome types: delayed versus immediate money, delayed versus immediate food, and delayed versus immediate alcohol. Both the hyperbolic decay model and area under the curve analysis showed that money was discounted less steeply than alcohol or food, but that alcohol and food were discounted similarly. This finding replicates previous results showing that people without drug abuse problems show steep discounting of alcohol. Furthermore, this finding suggests that alcohol may be steeply discounted as part of a general process involving primary/consumable reinforcers, not necessarily because it is a drug.