VIDEO: Gambling and drug addicts share similar brain activity: UBC study

Evidence suggests the same treatment for heroin addiction and alcoholism could be the same for gambling disorder.



A new study by a pair of UBC psychology researchers suggests problem gamblers and drug addicts produce the same kind of brain activity when going through a craving, and that effective treatments for both health problems could be the same.

Nineteen people with a gambling disorder underwent an MRI brain scan while they looked at images of slot machines and roulette, as well as neutral images. Nineteen healthy volunteers also underwent the scan while looking at the same images.

After participants rated their craving level, postdoctoral research fellow Eve Limbrick-Oldfield and psychology professor Luke Clark compared the gamblers’ responses to the gambling photos with the responses to the neutral photos. They found the gamblers reported a higher level of craving after seeing the gambling photos.

In those with the addiction, the gambling cues also increased brain activity in parts of the frontal cortex and a part of the brain called the insula — linked to craving and self-control in drug addiction.

The study suggests neurobiological similarities between problem gambling and drug addiction.

“This mysterious and poorly understood part of the brain has been identified as a key hub for craving in past research,” Limbrick-Oldfield said. “For example, smokers who have sustained brain injuries affecting their insula have been found to be more likely to quit smoking.”

Clark said the findings reveal the powerful effect of cues in triggering cravings for problem gamblers.

“Everything from the lights and the sounds of the slot machines to the smell of the casino are cues that, even after years of abstinence from gambling, can trigger a craving,” he said. “Being able to control one’s response to these cues is a crucial part of avoiding relapse.”

Clark said the findings also highlight the potential for treating gambling disorder by targeting the insula, and for testing new treatments and the ability to tone down these responses.

The researchers are now looking at the effectiveness of naltrexone – a medication used to treat alcohol and heroin addiction – and how it changes these brain responses in problem gamblers.

This involves giving another group of people with gambling problems both placebo supplements and naltrexone for four days, and then showing them the same sorts of neutral and rewarding images, Limbrick-Oldfield said.

The pair is also building on how simulation found in a casino – like machine sounds, and bright lights – affect brain activity for problem gamblers by creating playing atmospheres in different settings.


@ashwadhwaniashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.caLike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Columbia River Treaty to be renegotiated in early 2018

News came in a Tweet from the U.S. Department of State

Man who pledged to give B.C. hockey team millions charged with fraud

Mike Gould has since repaid $8,000 he allegedly owed Cranbrook restaurant, owner says

Site C dam goes ahead, cost estimate now up to $10.7 billion

Premier John Horgan says Christy Clark left him no other choice

L’école des Sept-sommets in Rossland receives funding for water upgrade

L’École des Sept-sommets is one of six B.C. schools that will soon have access to healthier water.

No commercial room to let in downtown Rossland

There are no “for rent” signs posted in Rossland’s downtown.

VIDEO: Average Canadian food bill to rise by $348 in 2018

Atlantic Canada and B.C. will see the most increases for consumers

More than 20,000 pounds of garbage removed from riverside homeless camps

Two camps taken down last week on the banks of the Fraser and Chilliwack rivers

Suspect in Revelstoke standoff killed himself: RCMP

Mohammadali Darabi, suspect in the Calgary homicide of his roommate, was stopped in Revelstoke

VIDEO: Salt Spring Islanders ferry piano to their floating home

Everyone enjoys a little music on the water, but not everyone has a piano on their boat

Clinton visits Vancouver, applauds Trudeau, celebrates Democrats’ win in Alabama

Clinton told crowd she cheered when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

Bomb detonated in Kamloops neighbourhood

Kamloops RCMP are investigating after an improvised explosive device was detonated Wednesday morning

No More Shootouts: Strong defence will be Canada’s backbone at world juniors

Head coach doesn’t want a situation where a hot goalie or a lucky bounce can determine a team’s fate

Proposed snowmobiles along Sicamous roads concern RCMP

RCMP, ICBC and province not yet on-board with proposed off-road bylaw in the B.C. Interior

‘Assemble your own meal’ kits grow into $120M industry in Canada

Kits offer a middle ground between eating out and grocery shopping

Most Read