The Brain Function Abnormalities of Gambling Addicts

You have a character addicted to gambling in your story.
In developing the character's backstory and character profile, you're faced with the old Nurture - Nature conundrum:
  1. Is gambling a moral weakness,
  2. a result of unresolved psychological issues from the character's past? 
  3. Or a medical disorder with causes that all the talk therapy in the world won't address? 
  4. Or is it a little of each?
Well, as you might expect, there's newly published research here to help clarify this issue for you, and help you develop a more believable story.  So here we go:

A University of Granada study reveals that gambling addicts present brain function abnormalities affecting their decision-making capacity.
University of Granada researchers have analyzed similarities and differences in psychological profile and brain function between cocaine addicts and gambling addicts. The study reveals that gambling addicts present brain function abnormalities affecting their decision-making capacity.

In the study, researchers confirm that cocaine has cumulative prejudicial effects on the functioning of areas of the brain necessary for correct control of impulses. This has been demonstrated through electroencephalography (EEG).

However, these negative effects on impulse control were not present in the gamblers, as their addiction does not involve the use of toxic substances. The research shows that individuals addicted to gambling do exhibit other brain function abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex related to the severity of their affliction and affect their capacity to take decisions.

Negative emotions
Principle authors lecturer José César Perales and researcher Ana Torres of the University of Granada Department of Experimental Psychology explain that "these bad decisions affect the individuals' ability to recognize and evaluate loss, even when this is not financial loss." Moreover, among the volunteers who took part in the research they also found that the tendency to make bad decisions increased significantly when they experienced negative emotions such as anxiety or sadness.

From the data gathered, they have derived "practical guidelines of direct use in the psychological treatment of both addictions."

First, we must bear it in mind that abnormalities provoked by chronic cocaine consumption can in turn impede treatment and, therefore, should be taken into account when establishing a prognosis.

Second, the researchers have identified key issues that treatment for pathological gambling should include:
  • to directly treat the emotional problems that trigger the need to gamble, and
  • to undergo specific training that enables the individual to adequately evaluate losses and their consequences.
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Story Source: Ana Torres, Andrés Catena, Antonio Cándido, Antonio Maldonado, Alberto Megías, José C. Perales. Cocaine Dependent Individuals and Gamblers Present Different Associative Learning Anomalies in Feedback-Driven Decision Making: A Behavioral and ERP Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013


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