Tag Archives: gambling

Gambling is not just a game

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.

Craving a Fix

I recently read the article “Cognitive and affective mechanisms linking trait mindfulness to craving among individuals in addiction recovery”  by E.L. Garland that I think I can use in my research proposal.

The article is about how mindfulness is related to craving.  Craving is the subjective experience of physical data related to the withdrawal from the cue (alcohol, drugs, etc.).  More than just the physiological experiences, craving is the inner interpretation of those experiences.  It is the constant thought of the craved substance, the anticipation of how good it will feel when the addict finally gets the substance, and all of the thoughts and behaviors that drive individuals to acquire the substance no matter what the cost.  I want to utilize this behavior in addicts to see if they are so focused in their cravings that they ignore reality, in the form of ignoring pain.  I wonder if their need for a fix is so great that other perceptions do not even register in their minds.  I feel like this repetitive, central goal might be somewhat similar to meditation that involves repeating a mantra, so I will have to read more on meditation.  Meditation could be a good contrast against addictions, since it is viewed in a positive light rather than a negative one and has already been shown to increase pain tolerance.

In this study, craving was measured using the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale.  It measures the duration, frequency, and intensity of craving for alcohol on a 7 point scale  with questions such as “How often have you thought about drinking or how good a drink would make you feel.”  This is perfectly designed to test the craving levels of the alcoholics in my proposal.  Since the scale was modified in the article to also measure cravings for drugs, I think it would be reasonable for me to modify the scale to measure the cravings of pathological gamblers.  This way, I would be able to compare the levels of craving of the addicted participants to their performance in the pain test.