Get help today 888-319-2606 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Want to Stay Sober? Wait a Minute…

For several years, experts have suspected a link between the need for instant gratification and the likelihood of addiction. And, thanks to a compelling study among siblings, the existence of a link between brain structure and poor impulse control puts us one step closer to confirmation.

The study, published in the journal Science, specifically evaluated the likelihood that one sibling would develop an addiction over the other. The study’s authors, Nora Volkow and Maia Szalavitz, believe their data proves that brain structure predetermines the likelihood of addiction.

Volkow and Szalavitz found that the siblings who were most impulsive and most attracted to instant gratification were the siblings who were addicts. Whether it is the nature of how we are born or the nurture of how we are brought up, something is happening to those of us who simply can’t delay gratification.

Take the Time to Wait for Gratification

The opposite of instant gratification is delayed – or deferred – gratification. Delayed gratification is when we are able to hold off on experiencing pleasure or happiness in the moment because we know something greater, healthier or better will come in the future.

When we’re active in addiction, delayed gratification is a nearly impossible act to wait for. We seek out almost any form of “I want to feel good now” we can get our hands on. We feel like we can’t fight the impulse to get high in that very moment; the wait is just too excruciating.

Impulse control is a trait that eludes most addicts. Intertwined with low impulse control, we also deal with frequent bouts of depression, anxiety, alienation and low self-esteem.

Reap the Rewards in Recovery

We’ve all heard the saying: “Good things come to those who wait.” It takes time to develop and hone in on some of the most basic – and valuable – tools of sobriety. For example, it takes time to develop solid relationships, get healthy or repair finances. But these tools and traits are definitely worth the wait.

Long-term goals for the future can’t be accomplished overnight, but they result in a greater sense of fulfillment when we allow ourselves enough time to build them up. If we refuse to look into the future, choosing instead to live only in the moment, we put ourselves at risk. We may never accomplish our life goals, prepare for our financial futures and feel a general lack of control over our own lives.

For those of us who have worked hard to achieve sobriety and thrive in recovery, it is imperative that we break the chains of instant gratification. If we insist on seeking out instant gratification in recovery, we make it harder to control our impulses to use and maintain emotional stability.

Believe it or not, once we learn how to delay gratification, we also develop a special sense of control over our drug- or alcohol-related impulses and urges. And with that inner power to embrace delayed gratification, we are able to establish some pretty impressive mental and physical habits for our own (sober) longevity.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.