Last October we cited research from over a decade ago, that had drawn parallels between gambling addiction and substance use disorders. Psychiatrist Hans Breiter conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on people playing slot machines, like the ones you find in casinos. The MRIs showed a similar picture to the scans of people using cocaine. And, just like drug addiction, gambling has the power to take everything from you; in effect, reinforcing the importance of continued research on the subject.
Breiter’s research was conducted in 2001, and it is fair to say that scientists’ ability to probe the inner workings of the brain has greatly improved since that time. Hopefully, such improvements will help guide efforts to increase the effectiveness of gambling addiction treatments moving forward. The need for evidence-based treatment methods is vital, considering that more and more “baby boomers” are cashing in their 401Ks and heading to the casinos, finding themselves caught in the cycle of addiction.
New Targets for Gambling Addiction
It is no secret that casinos have a certain allure, one could hardly find an equal comparison, short of mind altering substances. People who go to casinos regularly will spend hour after hour hoping to hit a jackpot. Even after their money runs out, they will still feel a need to continue playing, and a persistent urge to find a way to do so, despite realizing the futility of continued play.
New research conducted by scientists at Imperial College London, has revealed targets in the brain that could advance gambling addiction treatment, according to a ICL news release. The researchers conducted MRI scans on nearly 20 gambling addicts, indicating heightened activity in the insula and nucleus accumbens when the participants experienced cravings. The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
Previous studies on the insula and nucleus accumbens, located in what is often referred to as our primal brain, have linked the two areas to substance use disorders. The areas are believed to be responsible for decision-making, reward and impulse control, the article reports. In gambling addicts, the researchers observed a weak connection between the nucleus accumbens and the frontal lobe, an area of the brain which plays a large role in decision making. Weak connections that could explain the link between cravings and relapse. The authors report that the frontal lobe may act as a checks and balances mechanism for the insula, leading to impulse control in healthy brains. And lack thereof in gambling addicts.
“Weak connections between these regions have also been identified in drug addiction. 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.”
Strengthening Connections In Recovery
While there is still a lot that scientists do not understand about the biology of gambling addiction, people can, and do recover from the disease. If you are an older adult who has been struggling with gambling, please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center and Sage Retreat. We understand that the later years of life can be a risky time when a comes to addiction, the result of changes such as retirement or loss of a spouse. Please understand that you are not alone, and at our older adult addiction treatment program, we can help you find your way on the path of recovery.