Gambling Addiction Resembles Brain Problem

Poorer Choices, More Errors Seen in Chronic Gamblers' Mental Tests

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April 13, 2005 -- Gambling addiction may have something in common with certain brain impairments.

Both conditions can hinder decision-making and the ability to determine the consequences of actions, according to Franco Manes, MD, and colleagues. They say it's possible that gambling addiction is associated with impairments in the brain's prefrontal cortex, affecting the ability of gamblers to consider future consequences before taking action.

Drugs for Gambling Addiction?

When gambling becomes a chronic problem, trouble can follow on the job, at home, in relationships, and with money. If brain impairment is involved, there are "clear implications" for medications and therapies for gambling addiction, says Manes in a news release.

Manes works at the Raul Carrea Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He presented findings from his study at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Miami Beach, Fla.

In the study, 11 people with gambling addiction -- also called pathological gambling -- and 10 people without a gambling habit took several mental tests. The tests covered "executive functions" including decision making, attention, and impulse control.

Poor Choices, Errors

Those with a gambling addiction made "disadvantageous choices" on the decision-making task. The gamblers also made more impulse control errors on another task, say Manes and colleagues.

The errors and poor choices are similar to those made by people with problems in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the researchers say. They note that they're not the first to suggest a possible link between gambling addiction and brain problems.

Participants' brains weren't scanned or monitored, so it's not clear what their brains were up to during the tests. The study's small size means that it's probably not the final word on the topic.

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SOURCES: 57th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, Miami Beach, Fla., April 9-16, 2005. News release, American Academy of Neurology. National Institutes of Health.
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