My current knowledge about dopamine and serotonin came from a series of articles and web pages, a few videos also.

As per my knowledge and readings I know that addiction is about reward, a person’s brain releases a chemical called dopamine when a person do addictive task and hence he feels momentarily good. But doing too much of it damages the receptors and hence the person cannot feel happy anymore by doing that addictive act but he keeps on doing it in hope of that reward.

Now, if we treat that person so that his receptors gets healed a little and then we start giving him some medicine which releases dopamine in right amount and hence converting that person’s addition from that previous addictive task to the medicines ( well I believe this is what psychiatrist actually do, because a person who goes to a psychiatrist always ends up taking medicines whole of his life) . If it’s all about feeling good and the release of dopamine then it seems completely logical to treat it by medicines and some self control. Then, my question, finally, is Is it possible to cure addiction by converting it into another addiction?

I talked to some professionals and they said that it’s not wise to substitute a behavioural addiction with a substance addiction, but I cannot see any difference because both of these have same effect on the brain i.e. release of a chemical.

I know that there lies many many minute and significant details which I have failed to look over but I expect that the researchers, well educated and even self-learner’s will get the gist of what I have said.

Thank you.

  • $\begingroup$ I’m not getting any reply, is it because I’m just a student and asking a silly thing? $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ No not necessarily @adeshmishra. Sometimes a good answer can take a while to put together. Answers here require sources of information to back claims and looking for good sources takes time. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ I will try and formulate an answer, but can you give us some idea what books and/or websites you have read to try and find your answer? Is there anything which you don't quite understand? All these things can help to provide a helpful answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE. I also suggest taking our site tour to see how we work. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers First of all thank you so much for being so kind. I read the section of ‘what is off-topic?’ And other things too. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


Intro and Bill

For this answer, I am going to refer to a fictional person named Bill. You can skip to the next header if you wish, but here is a brief rundown on Bill.

Bill has always been a gambler. He started when his older brother used to sneak him into the pub to play on the fruit machines. Now, 15 years on, he has progressed from machines to horses, and over the last few years, to online betting.

Bill had a good job in the city, but was made redundant 6 months ago due to cutbacks. He was not too worried about finding more work in a hurry, as he had some savings. Now, those are gone, and his online betting has increased so much that this month he was unable to make the mortgage payment. That is when his wife discovered that the joint credit card was up to its limit and that there was no money left at all.

Bill loves his wife and winces when he describes the day she found out, and how frightened for the future and how betrayed she was. He desperately needs to pay back the money he owes her and some money he now owes to friends. He just cannot see how, unless he can get that one big win. Bill describes how he can study form and then will just ‘know’ that he has a winner. As soon as that happens, the feeling of anticipation and excitement just grows, and the feeling is better than almost anything in the world. Yes of course he must stop gambling, but never having that feeling again is going to be hard.

Important - Addiction as opposed to Habit

Addiction issues likely to arise are wide and varied. There are 2 types of addiction — Substance Addictions, and Process Addictions (Alavi, et al. 2012); and they can be anything from Risk Taking (“Adrenaline Junkie”) behaviours, Alcohol, Drugs or Food Addictions to Work, Shopping or Travel Addictions.

Although the demarcation can be blurry (Eddy, 1957) The difference between addictions and habits are that habits are generally unconscious actions and they do not take over your life. Addictions on the other hand are generally conscious actions which affects the person and their family with the fact that the person has become reliant on the actions to “live their life” (Byrd, 2016).

Addictions can impact the person’s wheel of wellness [self-care] (Crowell, 1998; Myers, et al. 2011; Myers & Sweeney, 2005) and there can be severe emotional and/or other psychological disturbances if the actions are not followed.

Addictions can start in many different ways. Addictions, or Self-Defeating Behaviours, operate within the following 3-step cycle.

  1. Usually, but not every time, it starts with something which the person has found deeply uncomfortable in an emotional sense which leads to the feeling of need to relieve the discomfort.
  2. This then leads to avoidance, distraction or escape from the emotional pain, in this case through the addictive behaviour, and
  3. the addictive behaviour then leads to guilt for having done it, which is another uncomfortable (negative) feeling or emotion to add to the list from the start, and the process continues from the beginning (at number 1) again.

In the case of drug or alcohol abuse without an initial deeply uncomfortable emotional feeling, it could start with a heavy night of use which creates an elevated sense of feeling. This can lead to feelings of guilt and other negative feelings, and so the cycle continues from there.

Alternatively, the seeking to regain those feelings in “that next high” can lead to feelings of inadequacy and/or despair which then takes you onto the negative feelings part of the cycle.

Can we change a particular addiction into another addiction?

Prolonged use of certain alcoholic drinks or certain drugs can lead to a situation where it would take so much more of the substance to get the “high” that you may then seek alternative (stronger) substances (Skinner & Allen, 1982). With alcohol for example, you may move from beer to spirits. With process addictions, it could lead to substance habit(s) followed by addiction.

Counselling such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy may be used to challenge certain stages of the cycle of Self-Defeating Behaviours and therefore break that cycle and put an end to it.

If we apply what I have said so far to Risk Taking as an addiction, it can be classed as a substance addiction as it involves the elevation of adrenaline in the body, or it can be classed as a process addiction as it involves taking risks. However, if you take Bill as an example, you can deduce that the addiction is a process addiction as it doesn’t involve intoxication from a substance related addiction per se, however, at certain times, there can be adrenaline involved and at some other times there can be other feel good hormones involved such as dopamine and serotonin.

How does this apply to Bill?

If we apply what I have said so far to Risk Taking as an addiction, it can be classed as a substance addiction as it involves the elevation of adrenaline in the body, or it can be classed as a process addiction as it involves taking risks. However, if you take Bill as an example, you can deduce that the addiction is a process addiction as it doesn’t involve intoxication from a substance related addiction per se, however, at certain times, there can be adrenaline involved and at some other times there can be other feel good hormones involved such as dopamine and serotonin.

To summarise what Bill’s problem is, he has a gambling addiction which seems to have started 15 years ago. His wife discovered the problem once she saw that their joint credit card is maxed out.

At the height of the chase to gain winnings, adrenaline will be rushing through his body giving feelings of excitement, and when there are wins, dopamine will affect the reward centres of his brain whilst serotonin provides some relaxation counteracting the adrenaline.

Bill sees himself as always been a gambler and it started with his brother taking him to the pub to play on fruit machines. Now he is gambling through online betting. Looking at Bill’s history, the problem has escalated through the years and he is at the point where he needs help to stop.

How long that takes will be down to the hard work Bill is prepared to undertake, and it is generally believed that it takes around 21 days to stop a habit — just as it does to start one — although it is not necessarily that clear cut (Lally, et al., 2010).

The problem has been exacerbated by a combination of:

  • the increase of access to gambling through online gambling sites,
  • the fact that he was made redundant 6 months ago, and
  • he wished to become a “professional gambler” to profit from his savings.

How could we help Bill?

First, we need to get Bill to examine why he looked for help. He said that having that feeling of anticipation and excitement is better than almost anything in the world and never having it again is going to be hard.

Bill winces when he describes the day his wife found out. Has he only come due to the fact that he was caught with the problem and needs to pay his friends and credit card back? If that is the case, once he has paid them back, will he go back to his old habits?

Bill’s Goal

Once he has done this, the last part of the combination of problems which exacerbate things (the wish to be a professional gambler) will make things a little more difficult to start with, and therefore this would need to be looked at first as it will affect his ability to look at what is known as self-exclusion schemes. (GambleAware, n.d.(a))

What does it mean to be a professional gambler? What about the problem of “House Edge” (GambleAware, n.d.(b))


Alavi, S. S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H., & Setare, M. (2012). Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views. International journal of preventive medicine, 3(4), 290–294. pmcid: PMC3354400

Byrd, N. (2016). Addiction vs. Habit: Recognizing the dangers. Retrieved from: https://byrdnick.com/archives/9951/addiction-vs-habit-infographic

Crowell, D. M. (1998). Care for the case manager: balancing your wheel of life. Journal of case management, 7(3), 112-116. PMID: 10703376

Eddy, N. B. (1957). Addiction-producing versus habit-forming: Guest Editorial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 163(17), 1622-1623. doi: 10.1001/jama.1957.02970520056015

GambleAware, n.d.(a). Self-Exclusion. Retrieved from: https://www.begambleaware.org/stay-in-control/what-is-self-exclusion/

GambleAware, n.d.(b). Gambling Words and Phrases Explained. Retrieved from: https://www.begambleaware.org/understanding-gambling/gambling-words-and-phrases-explained/

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), p. 998—1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674

Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (2005). The indivisible self: An evidence-based model of wellness. Journal of Individual Psychology, 61(3), 234-244. Free PDF: https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/J_Myers_Indivisible_2004.pdf

Myers, J. E., Sweeney, T. J., & Witmer, J. M. (2011). The wheel of wellness counseling for wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78(3), 251-266. doi: j.1556-6676.2000.tb01906.x

Skinner, H. A., & Allen, B. A. (1982). Alcohol dependence syndrome: Measurement and validation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 91(3), 199–209. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.91.3.199

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you sir, your answer is very nice. I want to apologise for making an edit “how is addiction as opposed to habit” your statement was alright but changing demaration to demarcation involves less than 6 characters so I made that, I’m extremely sorry for that. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ Don’t you think that you are a great man, for a stranger’s question you have done so much of reading and imagined a situation for the sake of explanation? $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 6:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Correcting typos is fine @adeshmishra. That is what editing is for. 😊 $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 10:35

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