Monday, December 28, 2015

Our brain on Gambling

Good morning readers. I have the pleasure of talking to a group via online, sharing some of my experience and clinical practice of working with people who suffer from a gambling disorder. This particular talk will concentrate on what the brain does and how it changes when gambling addiction and addiction occurs. I get many questions from parents or loved one's of gamblers, in how the brain can get addicted so quickly to gambling? The neuroscience in the last decade of understanding the brain and gambling has improved. In the middle of our cranium, a series of circuits known as the reward system links various scattered brain regions involved in memory, movement, pleasure and motivation. As humans we engage in an activity that keeps us alive or helps us pass on our genes, neurons in the reward system push out a chemical messenger called dopamine! This boost of satisfaction and encouragement allows us to make a habit of enjoying meals and sex! When the brain is stimulated by drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine, or other additive drugs, the reward system disperses up to 10 more times of dopamine than usual. Addictive substances keep the brain flooded in dopamine that it adapts by producing less of the molecule and becoming less responsive to its effects. The negative, addicts build up a tolerance to a drug, which means they need more to get high! Research shows that pathological gambling and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. However, gamblers tend to put themselves in riskier ventures in my experience. The withdrawal periods from gambling with the brain is tricking the brain. The reward circuitry becomes underactive. Researchers have gleaned that drugs and gambling alter many of the same brain circuits in common ways. Many of you are aware or have read studies that discuss the neurodegenerative disorder of Parkinson's disease and compulsive gamblers. Remember Parkinson's is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in the part of the midbrain. Gambling and the brain appear to create fantasy thinking or irrational thoughts. The risk and impulsive decision making goes array. At one time, I have read that 80% of gambling addicts never seek treatment. Addiction is the substitute satisfaction on an unmet need. Nearly two million people in the United States are addicted to gambling, that number may be going up! Stay in your health, stay in the moment.