Brain Abnormalities In Gamblers Different From Drug Addicts

By Shawn Dwyer 10/20/14

A new study has shown that gambling addicts don't have the same brain alterations as abusers of cocaine or heroin.

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While all addictions are linked to some form of brain alteration, a new study conducted by researchers in London and Cambridge has found that the brains in pathological gamblers are different than those who abuse alcohol or narcotics.

The study, which will be presented at the ECNP Congress in Berlin this week, found that the opioid systems in gambling addicts reacted differently than in those who were deemed healthy. The researchers examined the brains of 14 pathological gamblers and 15 healthy participants after each were given an amphetamine tablet. Scans revealed that the brains of problem gamblers didn't release as many endorphins as their healthy counterparts. A subsequent questionnaire confirmed the results when the problem gamblers revealed that they experienced lower levels of euphoria.

"From our work, we can say two things," said lead researcher Dr. Inge Mick. "Firstly, the brains of pathological gamblers respond differently to this stimulation than the brains of healthy volunteers. And secondly, it seems that pathological gamblers just don't get the same feeling of euphoria as do healthy volunteers. This may go some way to explaining why the gambling becomes an addiction."

Because of these lower levels of euphoria, gambling addicts have to work harder in order to experience the same "rush" as a non-addict, which contributes to becoming more heavily involved in gambling. Dr. Mick said the results of the study, despite the small sample size, could lead to new treatments for problem gamblers, though some outside the study expressed skepticism with the results.

"Gambling is a behavioral addiction which is influenced by biological, psychological and social factors," said Dr. Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University. "As to whether a gambling addiction is different to an alcohol or cocaine addiction, the sample size in the study is small and we need to see more research in this area first."

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.