Gambling Addiction Drug Could Happen

By McCarton Ackerman 02/22/12

Japanese scientists uncover the brain's responses to winning and losing money.

An addict's brain chemistry can cause
gambling to get out of hand.

Researchers in Japan have found that a chemical in the region of the brain involved in sensory and reward systems is crucial to how people react to financial losses, which could lead to the possible development of drugs to treat problem gamblers. The experiment, conducted at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, studied 19 people after they gambled and showed that a chemical messenger called norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, is central to the response to losing money. Those with low levels of norepinephrine transporters had higher levels of the chemical in a crucial part of their brain, leading them to be less aroused by losing money and less sensitive to it. Those with higher levels of this chemical suffered from "loss aversion," or a more pronounced reaction to financial losses and gains. "We like to believe we all have free will and make whatever decisions we want to, but this shows it's not so easy," says Julio Licino, editor of Molecular Psychiatry, which published the study. "Many people have a predisposure to make certain kinds of decisions." Alexis Bailey, a lecturer in neuropharmacology at Britain's University of Surrey, says scientists now need to analyze known pathological gamblers to confirm whether they have higher levels of these brain chemical transporters than non-gamblers.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.