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A Little Pill and You’re a Casual Online Poker-Player Again???

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.

2 thoughts on “A Little Pill and You’re a Casual Online Poker-Player Again???

  1. “Addiction is a disorder of motivation, decision making, pleasure seeking, inhibitory control, and the way we learn and consolidate information and experiences.” What does this mean? What is a disorder of motivation? I think I can understand what it means to say that an obese person has a disorder of motivation. Her desire to eat food is so great that it causes her to become unhealthy. Perhaps the same can be said for a disorder of motivation with respect to gambling. His desire to play poker was so great that it caused him to become unhealthy (e.g. lack of sleep, lack of relationships, lack of work). Is this it? If so, this is only about one of the characteristics. What about decision making, etc.? Does one have to have a disorder with all of these or just some in order to be addicted? It’s still somewhat unclear to me what addiction means. Without a clearer explanation, the scientific correlations do not hold much meaning for me.

  2. I interpret the quotation as being one of several ways you can look at addictive behavior. Taking your example of obesity, there may be a problem with motivation (not exercising), decision making (eating more, despite health problems), pleasure seeking (not being satisfied with healthy portions of food), inhibitory control (not stopping eating when full), etc.

    The medical definitions of addiction speak to behavior only – more and more gambling, despite having negative consequences, e.g. work suffers, family life suffers, finances suffer, etc. Medical definitions currently do not speak to cause – e.g. is it too much pleasure seeking or not enough inhibitory control?

    My prediction would be that someday these causes will be understood biologically, and what may follow are specific treatments, including medication, for specific causes. E.g, if your dopamine levels are low, and you don’t get the normal pleasure from 1 piece of pie or 1 hour of poker, you could take a “dopamine-adjusting” pill to feel better, instead of needing the whole pie or a whole night of gambling to enjoy the experience. Conversely, if your GABA levels are low, and you don’t have normal inhibitory pathways working, you would take a “GABA-adjusting” pill instead.

    Better living thru pharmacology.

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