New Canadian clinic designed to treat adolescents addicted to gambling

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports this week on the activities of a new holistic clinic specifically designed to treat adolescents addicted to gambling, the Internet and video games.

Clinicians at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto are behind the Adolescent Clinical Education Service, dubbed ACES by clinical head Bruce Ballon, which was launched last month. The objective is to propel youth addiction treatment into the 21st century by acknowledging that video games and the Internet can be just another escape route for young people battling mental health issues such as social anxiety, depression or low self-esteem.

"We started getting tons of calls about Internet use and we got tired of saying, 'Oh we don't deal with that,' "Dr. Ballon told the Globe and Mail. "Instead, we said, 'Let's deal with it,' because it's just another manifestation or coping mechanism or strategy to deal with other issues."

ACES is run by Dr. Ballon, a child psychiatrist, and Joanna Henderson, a psychologist and researcher, both with the youth addiction program at CAMH. The duo report that they are currently see eight patients on a regular basis and are receiving a growing number of referrals. The patients are aged between 16 and 24, but Ballon would like to include teens as young as 14. The report does not give a breakdown of patients by addictive behaviour ie gambling, video-gaming etc.

One of the diagnostic problems facing Ballon is that his patients typically mask concurrent disorders that may have been building under the surface since childhood and could be contributing to the addiction. He says that identifying those issues is key to treating ACES patients who become addicted to online gambling, interactive video games or eBay.

Some may have Asperger syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities and not even know it, he explains, adding that many of the patients have severe social anxiety and post-traumatic stress issues.

Ballon does not subscribe to the concept of enforced rehabilitation using "cold turkey" methods. If a patient wants to stop, he will help with that, but most patients don't wish to, he says. Most patients prefer to gradually reduce their dependence on the source of their addiction, he has found.

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