New hope to treat problem gamblers

WASHINGTON — New findings suggest the key to helping people with serious gambling problems might involve the same area of the brain linked to substance abuse.

Parts of the brain that light up when drug addicts have cravings also react when problem gamblers are shown gaming related images, say researchers at the University Of British Columbia. 

“This was in multiple regions of the brain — including the insula,” said Eve Limbrick-Oldfield. She’s a postdoctoral research fellow at the UBC department of psychology and Centre for Gambling Research, and lead author of a new study that involved MRI scans of the brains of 19 people with serious gambling problems.

“The higher their craving rating, the more active the insula was,” Limbrick-Oldfield said.

Research now underway targeting the insula might lead to the development of drugs to help tone down cravings to gamble. There’s a chance drugs currently used to treat alcohol and heroin addiction will help.

“In our ongoing work we’re looking at a medication called naltrexone that affects the opioid system, and we know there are lots of opioid receptors in the insula,” said study co-author Luke Clark, psychology professor at UBC and director of the Centre for Gambling Research.

The research was published Tuesday in Translational Psychiatry.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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