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By: Dr.Tasaduk Hussain Itoo

Adolescents who lack patience are more likely to experiment with and use drugs. Impulsive individuals typically choose the smaller, faster reward more often than the larger, delayed reward. This is because of its distance in time relative to an immediacy of the smaller reward. Overcoming this tendency is an important prevention tool including learning to tolerate delay or an ability to wait to get what you want. This learning could potentially generalize to other aspects of everyday life situations involving choices with long-term consequences (e.g., education and healthy living).

Impulsivity can be described as rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external provocations with little consideration of the consequences. Impulsivity often refers to problematic behavior. For example, a person is described as impulsive when he or she repeatedly buys things on impulse without consideration of the ability to pay for it. The choice may be satisfying now but potentially detrimental in the long run.

A failure to resist impulse is considered as an important obstacle to a more rational long-term strategy for success. We all can relate to this weakness. Those of us who have resolved to eat healthy food only to succumb to temptation when seeing an unexpected box of Girl Scout cookies in the house. We all behave impulsively at one time or another, but some are too impulsive.

The impulsive behavior might help drug abuse by reducing the weight given to its negative long-term consequences. The main problem with most addictive behaviors is that the costs (adverse consequences) occur in the future, whereas the pleasures from them occur in the present. The choice to consume a substance of abuse presumably results in an immediate rush or removal of withdrawal symptoms.

Impulsivity and sensation-seeking are generally elevated in adolescence, but decrease as the life span progresses (Green et al., 1999). Specifically, discounting (value less) of delayed rewards is at its highest levels during adolescence (around ages of 12) and levels off while moving toward adulthood (age of 20 years).

Young people think of their future selves in the same way that they think of strangers. So they are less concerned about their future well-being. This explains why adolescence and early adulthood are the times when someone is most likely to become addicted (Sapolsky, 2017).

An important characteristic of adolescent risk-taking is the influence of emotions. Those activities they enjoy tend to be seen as less risky than those that are actually safer but less emotionally pleasant. The more favorable the feeling attached to an option, the less risk is associated with it. This decision calculus encourages the risk-taking behavior. It also makes young adults subject to certain biases of judgment controlled by emotional reactions (Slovic, et al., 2002).

Impulsivity is also influenced by other events (especially when impulsive behavior is not a personality trait). These include economic conditions, life expectancy, or the reliability of the local environment. Under these conditions, individuals may learn that living for the moment and distrusting the future is a better strategy.  Thus, a lifetime of learning not to trust others to deliver what they promise in the future may play a role in choices over time. And the tendency to take whatever is immediately available may play an important role in the decision to use drugs.

Research studies have identified impulsive personality as a significant predictor for the development of addictive behaviors (Argyriou et al., 2018). For example, problem drinking in undergraduates is significantly related to impaired impulse control and sensation-seeking. Highly impulsive individuals are more sensitive to the rewarding effects of drugs. With the immediate thrills of drugs, only moments away outweigh the distant value of having enough money to pay rent at the end of the month.

Furthermore, repetitive drug uses contribute to long-lasting changes in impulsivity. Chronic or acute drug use changes the brain’s chemistry, particularly in regions that form the brain’s valuation system. The delay intolerance makes their road to recovery a difficult journey, filled with good intentions and frequent relapses.

In sum, the personality trait of impulsivity makes individuals more vulnerable to substance use, and that this trait may exist prior to substance use. Thus, screening for impulsivity during this period may help identify high-risk individuals for addictions.

Reorienting an individual away from immediate gratification and toward making more future-oriented decisions is a logical step in promoting self-control. For example, evidence shows that nurturing, responsive parent-youth relations that include limit setting and monitoring deter risky behavior (Madkour et al., 2017). As personal autonomy increases in high school, youths’ unsupervised interactions with peers are influenced by the sense of personal worth and self-respect internalized from past parental interactions.

The writer is Resident Doctor at Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences and Hospital Jammu /Social Activist /Educator at Unacademy.

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