Brain study could see more effective problem gambling treatment

Brain study could see more effective problem gambling treatment

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 Posted by Andy McCarron
Imperial College London study suggests insula and nucleus accumbens are key

New research into problem gambling could open up more effective treatment methods according to one of the authors.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said that the paper finds some similarities between those that suffer alcohol and drug dependencies and those with a gambling problem, and that this oculd be used for future treatment strategies.

She explained: "We know the condition may have a genetic component - and that the children of gambling addicts are at higher risk of gambling addiction themselves - but we still don’t know the exact parts of the brain involved. This research identifies key brain areas, and opens avenues for targeted treatments that prevent cravings and relapse."

Bowden-Jones was one of the co-authors of the study by international scientists including researchers from Imperial College London, which found that two brain areas, called the insula and nucleus accumbens, are highly active when people with gambling addiction experience cravings.

Activity in these areas, which are found deep in the centre of the brain and involved in decision-making, reward and impulse control, has been previously linked to drug and alcohol cravings.

Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes, co-author from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, added: "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."

Lingford-Hughes added that monitoring activity and connections in the insula and nucleus accumbens in gambling addicts may not only help medics assess effectiveness of a treatment, but may also help prevent relapse - a common problem in addiction.

Lingford-Hughes told that the funding for the study came from Medical Research Council, adding: "The study is part of a wider programme characterising the brain function in addiction. We work on the premise that understanding more about brain function in addiction will help inform prevention and treatment. The mainstay of treatment is psychological therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Adding in medication such as opiate blockers (e.g. naltrexone) may also help."

She added: "We are further exploring the responses we are seeing in those with gambling disorder, along with other brain imaging data, e.g.of the opiate system in the brain that processes rewards and pleasure."

Totally Gaming says: Any research that highlights some of the causes of problem gambling should be welcomed, especially given the relative paucity of information globally about the issue. However we should be cautious at extrapolating the findings to the general problem gambling population, given that the results are based on 38 subjects, half of whom had a gambling problem. With GambleAware in the UK funding a research programme planned for the next three years, there is a great deal more research in the pipeline. 

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