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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo: Now-Leader).
Surrey Schools seeking community input for 2021-22 budget

Majority of it is pre-allocated, but room to address priorities in the community

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service hires first three inspectors as ‘next layer of leadership’

Three men have more than 80 years of combined experience

Whalley Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves in the stands at the club's diamond at Whalley Athletic Park. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey baseball clubs prep for spring games as COVID threatens another season

‘I’m really excited about this year, because we have the troops in place,’ Whalley Chiefs GM says

Scales of Justice
Court awards woman $167K after vehicle was struck by White Rock taxi in 2016

Plaintiff’s knee injuries and resulting chronic pain disability are genuine, judge rules

TEASER - SAGAís Gift Shop Manager Barbie Warwick wearing The Summons while sketching in Facing Time exhibit. Photo by Pardeep Singh.jpg
‘The Summons’ face masks created as fundraiser for Surrey Art Gallery Association

Image of magnolia flower and poetry printed on specially designed mask

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

RCMP members responded to calls of a man-down at Landsdowne mall in Richmond Wednesday afternoon. The 40-year-old was suffering from stab wounds. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man in critical condition following afternoon attack outside Richmond mall: RCMP

The Vancouver resident was found lying injured outside Richmond’s Lansdowne Centre

Most Read