Compulsive gamblers are hot-wired in the same way as drug and alcohol addicts, with new research showing the same part of the brain active in cravings and addiction relapses.
While the study is in its infancy, Britain’s NHS public health foundation trust has announced its findings could lead to new treatments for gambling addiction.
Scientists have identified two brain areas that were highly active when gamblers felt the urge to gamble, with the insula and nucleus accumbens areas the same trigger areas for drug addiction cravings and “reward sensations”.
It was also found a link with the brain’s frontal lobe, which may help to control impulses with a weaker connection between this region and the nucleus accumbens associated with a more intense urge to gamble.
“Weak connections between these regions have also been identified in drug addiction,” Imperial College London and study researcher Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes said yesterday.
“The frontal lobe can help control impulsivity, therefore a weak link may contribute to people being unable to stop gambling, and ignoring the negative consequences of their actions.
“The connections may also be affected by mood — and be further weakened by stress, which may be why gambling addicts relapse during difficult periods in their life.”
Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and report co-author Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, said the breakthrough study could lead to new treatments. “Gambling addiction can have a devastating effect not just on patients, but also their families,” she said.
The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 19 gambling addicts who were shown images that included a roulette wheel and betting shop. The images triggered high activity and craving in the same part of the brain as alcohol and drug addicts.
The same images shown to non-addiction patients showed no activity in that part of the brain.