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

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Stephen Laidlaw, prepator with Nanaimo Art Gallery, hangs a photograph of Anna Wong, a B.C. print maker whose works are on display at the gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

‘Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads’ features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

Most Read