Gambling Addiction And The Brain
The brain becomes conditioned into wanting more and more to trigger its reward system, to the point where its mental wiring becomes significantly altered, and getting it back to normal requires undoing weeks, months, or potentially even years of negative impact. “The worst thing for me about my gambling was the fear of being found out and the guilt around spending so much money on it when I had a family to support. I was constantly lying to cover up my whereabouts, fabricating stories to justify where I had been. There are growing calls for gambling to be reframed as a public health issue, like smoking and physical inactivity, which also disproportionately affect poorer people.
These gamblers fluctuate between heavy and excessive betting, which suggests they can temporarily control themselves. Because of their deep-seated and wide-ranging problems, impulsive anti-social gamblers likely will need long-term treatment. That may include intensive behavioral therapy aimed at curbing their impulsiveness, and drugs to balance their aberrant brain chemistry and to reduce gambling’s allure. Emotionally vulnerable gamblers will need help with the depression and anxiety that laid the groundwork for their excessive gambling.
Each volunteer went into a magnetic resonance imaging scanner – which uses a powerful electromagnet to monitor brain activity – and were shown various images. These included pictures of gambling scenes, such as a roulette wheel or a betting shop. In the research, which was conducted between Imperial and the National Problem Gambling Clinic, scientists studied 19 patients with gambling addiction, and 19 healthy volunteers.
This similarity suggests that common brain circuitry is used for various types of rewards . There is an urgent need to improve treatments for gambling disorder, with the most common treatment intervention cognitive behavioural therapy , having limits to its usefulness, with high rates of relapse and drop out being commonplace. TDCS has been shown to help to enhance CBT and treatment outcomes in other mental health disorders, but very little work has previously looked at gambling. Gambling disorder is a significant public health problem that often results in a distinctive pattern of persistent and disabling psychological symptoms. Although once thought to be relatively uncommon, studies estimate that gambling disorder has a lifetime prevalence among adults of 1.6% and a past-year prevalence of 1.1%. Patients with gambling disorder also experience significant social and occupational impairment as well as financial and legal difficulties.
This trial, which will be taking place over the next 12 months, will provide us with useful information about how the GTRC’s unique approach to gambling can be provided to those who may not be able to attend face-to-face treatment. Our research intern program provides unique opportunities for research students to gain real-world experience as they study. At the same time, our research and clinical insights are quickly transferred to graduates who can go on to practise in a wide variety of settings outside the University of Sydney.
There were tDCS effects on brain activation that indicated short and long term effects of the clinical intervention. Results also showed that gamblers with higher impulsive levels had higher stress activation compared with lower impulsive gamblers, and that arousal was higher during gambling-related wins compared with losses. The research at UEL aimed to investigate the potential of tDCS to improve treatment approaches for gambling disorder.