Negative Outlook on Past Increases Risk for Substance Abuse

New findings from an American research team indicate that the amount and type of emphasis you place on the past, present or future can significantly influence your chances of experiencing diagnosable substance problems or other harmful outcomes of substance use. The vast majority of adults dedicate certain amounts of time to thinking about the past, living in the present or planning for the future. In a study published in May 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Florida State University examined the impact that your typical time perspective may have on your chances of developing drug or alcohol problems or otherwise experiencing substance-related harm. These researchers identified two specific time perspectives associated with increased exposure to drug- or alcohol-related issues.

Time Perspective

There are five basic time perspectives, according to theories put forth by a number of psychologists: past positive, past negative, present hedonistic, present fatalistic and future. People with a primarily past-negative time orientation tend to focus on bad things that happened to them in the past and thereby continue to be negatively impacted by their past experiences. People with a primarily past-positive time orientation have a pleasant or nostalgic perspective on the past and use this perspective to support a generally mentally healthy present. People with a present-hedonistic time orientation have prominent impulsive tendencies that drive them to prioritize current pleasurable experiences over other factors. People with a present-fatalistic time orientation feel locked into a largely unpleasant present and see no real chance of changing their circumstances. People with a future-oriented time perspective look forward to the future, make plans for their future goals and take steps to realize those plans. The average person views life through all five time perspectives at least occasionally. The predominant one or two perspectives for any given individual can have a considerable impact on his or her daily experiences and mental and physical health and well-being. The founders of time perspective theory believe that certain time orientations substantially increase the odds that a person will consume alcohol in risky amounts, misuse mind-altering prescription medications and/or consume illicit or illegal drugs.

Substance-Related Harm

Substance-related harm is a short-term and long-term concept. Forms of harm commonly associated with short-term substance use include alcohol poisoning and other forms of overdose, motor vehicle crashes and other potentially fatal accidents, physical assault participation or victimization and sexual assault participation or victimization. The onset of diagnosable substance use disorder (substance addiction and/or non-addicted substance abuse) is one of the primary harms associated with relatively long-term substance intake; common subtypes of this condition include alcohol use disorder, opioid use disorder, cannabis use disorder and stimulant use disorder. Chronic, habitual intake of various substances can also lead to serious and possibly fatal damage in essentially all major organs and organ systems, including the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, the kidneys, the liver and the lungs.

Which Perspectives Increase Substance Risks?

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the Florida State University researchers used a project involving 531 adults to help determine the impact that time perspective has on the odds of developing diagnosable substance problems or experiencing some other form of substance-related harm. The researchers specifically focused their attention on the effects of a past-negative time perspective and a present-hedonistic time perspective. In addition to considering the independent influence of these perspectives, they explored the interactive effects of a past-negative orientation and a present-hedonistic orientation. The researchers undertook their project, in part, because previous research efforts had centered on time perspectives in relation to baseline substance use, not time perspectives in relation to level of exposure to substance-related harm. After completing their analysis, the researchers concluded that adults with a present-hedonistic time perspective have substantially increased chances of being exposed to some sort of short- or long-term substance-related harm. They came to the same conclusion with regard to a past-negative time perspective. When the researchers examined the interaction between the two time perspectives, they concluded that the risks for substance-related harm increase in adults who have both a past-negative orientation and a present-hedonistic orientation. The study’s authors believe that a negative outlook on the past may increase the chances that an individual will take part in impulsive, pleasure-focused behavior in the present. Such a chain of mental events helps explain how a past-negative time perspective and a present-hedonistic time perspective combine to increase substance-related risk.

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