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U of Lethbridge adds new research chair on gambling abuse

New chair, Darren Christensen, says gambling abuse is similar to substance abuse.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | MAR 12 2014

The University of Lethbridge is adding to its already considerable expertise in gambling research with the addition of Darren Christensen, who arrived on campus in January to take up the Alberta Gambling Research Institute’s Chair in Gambling, a five-year appointment. A native of New Zealand, Dr. Christensen was most recently a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Problem Gambling Research and Treatment Centre in Australia.

Dr. Christensen says what attracted him to Lethbridge was the chance to work with gambling researchers “who are well-known internationally.” As well, being sponsored by the Alberta Gambling Research Institute “is a big positive,” he says. The institute is a consortium of the University of Lethbridge, University of Alberta and University of Calgary.

“What is exciting is that there are so many collaborative opportunities here,” he says. “It allows me the chance to work with behavioural neuroscientists, addictions counsellors and public health practitioners, among others.”

Dr. Christensen says his research is quite broad. “I look at the theoretical overlap between gambling and substance addiction generally. I’ve also been looking at assessing and evaluating new treatments for gambling,” he says, including behavioural predictors of treatment outcomes.

The development of a gambling problem “to me, seems very similar to the development of a substance-use problem,” says Dr. Christensen. Individuals may start to gamble to escape the pressures of the day and alter their mood, “similar to an experimentation phase with substance use.” Then, in later stages, problem gamblers begin to show the classic physiological symptoms of substance abuse, including tolerance and withdrawal.

Dr. Christensen says he likes the public messages in Canada about how gamblers should know their limit and stick to it. “Although it might not stop a problem gambler from gambling, it may at least give somebody pause,” he says.

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