While reading the article “Compulsive features in behavioral addictions: the case of pathological gambling” written by Nadyel-Guebaly, I had several ideas for my research proposal, the biggest of which was to include gamblers as well as alcoholics.
Even though gambling is a behavioral addiction and alcoholism is a substance use disorder, they have many similarities. I think it would be interesting to compare a behavioral addiction to a biologically based addiction because they are both addictions, just with different bases. However, it might be hard to isolate gamblers from alcoholics because gambling often occurs with alcoholism.
One of the primary features of substance dependence is that “use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem.” Addicts compulsively use drugs without any thought of the consequences. This is similar to pathological gamblers, who can have a hard time quitting gambling despite negative consequences such as losing all of their money. These compulsive behaviors are associated with obsessive thoughts over the behaviors. Both of these addictions are ego-syntonic, meaning they feel pleasure, gratification, or relief when they commit the act. They cannot stop their addiction, because when they are in withdrawal they feel stress and anxiety which they want to get rid of. The easiest way to not feel withdrawal symptoms is to not be in withdrawal anymore by taking the addictive substance or doing the addictive behavior. Gamblers feels craving and withdrawal just like alcoholics do.
There are, according to Koob and Volkow, three stages of the addiction cycle: binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative effect, preoccupation/anticipation (craving). There are specific brain regions associated with each of these stages. Binge/intoxication is associated with the ventral tegmental and ventral striatum. Withdrawal/negative affect is associated with the extended amygdala. Preoccupation/anticipation is associated with the orbitofrontal cortexdorsal striatum, prefrontal cortex, basolater amygdala, hippocampus, and insula. It is this stage that I am particularly interested in. I hypothesize that the preoccupation and anticipation of the addiction might be similar to having a mantra in meditation, which is related to increased pain tolerance.
For even more biology, there are different neurotransmitter systems that contribute to substance addiction and gambling. Serotonin contributes to behavioral inhibition, and when it is suppressed the addicts feel a euphoric high. Dopamine is related to learning, motivation, and salience of stimuli, including pleasureful rewards for enacting the addictive behavior. Even though gambling is a behavioral addition and alcoholism is a substance use addiction, both of them effect the brain is a similar manner.