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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How are those addicted to gambling 'treated'?

    Related Topics
    How do you reverse the process?
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    Dr Jeremy Adams

    Psychologist

    Dr. Jeremy Adams has a multidimensional background that includes a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise psychology, a clinical postdoctoral fellowship in Chemical Dependency, and a … View Profile

    Gambling addiction can and should be ‘treated’ in much the same way as any other addiction (such as alcohol) because they share the same underlying pathway.

    We become ‘addicted’ to substances or behaviours when we're rewarded for participating in that activity by a part of our brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. The reward is in the form of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, and it feels really good. In fact, any time you get a rush of pleasure, chances are it's a dopamine release. Unfortunately, this part of the brain is easily fooled into releasing dopamine (and gambling is a great way of doing so). Even more unfortunately, this brain centre learns to adapt the levels of dopamine based on how much is being stimulated. If more is stimulated (say by regular gambling), it reduces the background levels so that it becomes dependent on the stimulus (in this case gambling) for dopamine regulation. After a while, the gambling is the only thing that will result in dopamine release. When it's taken away, we feel awful, and so we go back to gambling.

    Turns out it's even more complex than this, because it's also about the way we think about the gambling, and the rationalisations we create to convince ourselves it's a good thing.

    To treat gambling and other addictions, you should seek out a registered psychologist with specialised training in addiction treatment. It will also be of benefit if he or she is trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or another mindfulness-based therapy, because these types of treatment focus on the individual's ability to better tolerate strong emotions, and to disengage from thoughts that demand a return to the addictive behaviour. They also focus on reestablishing a person's values, to help focus on what's really important.

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