A group of researchers at Cambridge University have announced a major breakthrough in the understanding of gambling addiction and brain activity. It is an important breakthrough given the fact that gambling addiction does not get nearly the same attention as addiction to controlled substances like heroin and cocaine. The breakthrough may lead to future treatments involving either medication or psychotherapy.
The Daily Mail reported on the unusual research involving participants who had suffered brain injury as compared to those who were healthy. Both groups were encouraged to play slot machines and video roulette, then tracked to see how they would react as the game progressed. They discovered that a certain portion of the brain, known as the insula, seems to play an important role in continued gambling.
For example, those participants whose brain damage included an inactive insula were able to adopt a more pragmatic approach to gambling. They understood their losses were mounting, they seemed to grasp the fact that gambling was rigged against them, and they were less likely to act impulsively while playing the games. The group of healthy participants was largely the opposite.
The study seems to show that the insula in a completely healthy brain makes it easier for gamblers to fool themselves into thinking they will eventually succeed. Essentially, the insula plays a number of tricks on the gambler. Those tricks include the following:
- fooling the gambler into thinking ‘near misses’ mean he or she is getting closer to winning
- making the gambler believe the system is really not stacked against him
- encouraging a heightened sense of excitement as the games progress, despite continued losing.
We should note that the study in no way suggests every person with a healthy insula is prone to gambling addiction. Rather, it simply suggests that some people are more prone due to the way their insula works. If subsequent studies back up the Cambridge data, finding a way to temporarily deactivate the insula, or at least slow it down, could help researchers gain victory over gambling addiction. We will have to wait and see what happens.
Current Gambling Addiction Treatments
If you or someone you love is currently struggling with a gambling addiction, we do not want to leave you with the misconception that there are no current treatments for your problem. There are a number of treatments available. Gambling addiction can be treated through a support group, individual counselling with a professional, 12-step work, and something known as cognitive behavioural therapy.
We urge you to either call us or get in touch with a community organisation specialising in addiction recovery. We can help you locate an appropriate treatment option in your local area. We can also help you determine what type of treatment is most likely to be successful for you.
For many problem gamblers, 12-step work and cognitive behavioural therapy seem to work well. You might be familiar with 12-step programmes if you know anything about alcoholics anonymous. They were the ones who originally developed programme, and a number of addiction recovery support groups have used it successfully over the last 80 years.
As for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), this highly successful counselling therapy can be completed in 12 to 15 sessions. It is a results-driven and goal-oriented therapy that helps you change your life by setting and achieving certain goals. You might find it helpful in your case.
We urge you to get the help you need for your gambling addiction today. The sooner you do, the sooner you can take back control of your life.