Will a little pill someday take care of your poker addiction? Researchers are trying to make that possibility come true.
“Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, is a disorder of motivation, decision making, pleasure seeking, inhibitory control, and the way we learn and consolidate information and experiences,” says NY Times Magazine writer B. Denizet-Lewis in his 6/25/06 article.
Dopamine is one neurotransmitter involved in these activities in the brain. Cocaine, for example, creates a dopamine spike. But after repeated use, the spikes get smaller and smaller, thus creating the need for more and more cocaine to get the same effect. As you use cocaine over and over, the number of dopamine receptors in your brain decreases, so again, you need more cocaine for the same effect. Researchers are working on dopamine-related medication to decrease those spikes in response to “cues,” things that make you think about cocaine, for example, so you “unlearn” cravings.
2 other neurotransmitters, GABA and glutamate, may also be involved in addiction. GABA is an inhibitory transmitter – perhaps too little, and you can’t stop ante-ing up for another round of poker. Glutamate in an excitatory transmitter – perhaps too much, and poker makes you too excited for the reason-centered parts of your brain to reign in your playing.
Despite all the hope for a medication cure, psychosocial interventions to treat addiction and still needed and emphasized. “People, places and things,” as the saying at AA goes, still count. This means staying away from your buddies who shoot up cocaine, not going down to that street corner with $$ in your pocket, and not firing up that computer and entering www.i’mplayingtoomuchpoker.com into that search engine.