Cognitive and Neuroscience Approaches to Problem Gambling


Gambling is a common activity, but it can become addictive. This addiction can have negative consequences for the gambler and their loved ones. It can lead to financial, social, and psychological problems.

Psychiatry and neuroscience have studied gambling behavior for many years. They have learned that a small number of people can develop an addiction to this type of activity. The American Psychiatric Association classifies this addiction as an impulse-control disorder in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).

Cognitive Approach to Problem Gambling

Studies have shown that people who are addicted to gambling tend to hold erroneous beliefs about probabilities and random sequences. These beliefs are called cognitive distortions and they can be very idiosyncratic.

One cognitive distortion is the Gambler’s Fallacy, where a person believes that the odds of winning are greater than they actually are. For example, a person who is playing roulette believes that if they see seven black numbers come up in a row, then another set of seven black numbers will appear soon.

Researchers have also found that certain moods can affect the way we gamble. For example, people tend to gamble more when they are happy or when there are good weather conditions.

In some cases, gambling can be a form of communication with the gods or spirits. For example, in Chinese, Native American, and African cultures, gambling is a way to get in touch with the spirit world and ask for guidance.

This belief can be influenced by a person’s own psychology and their sense of self-worth. Having a positive mental attitude can make a person more receptive to gambling, as can having a strong support system.

Psychobiological Approach to Problem Gambling

Research has also examined differences in the brains of pathological gamblers and healthy controls, using fMRI. This has revealed dysregulation of brain regions linked to reward and emotion, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and striatum. This may be due to a reward deficiency in the brain, as has been found with drug addiction.

The striatum is also linked to emotions and reward, as it is responsible for the production of dopamine. In people with problem gambling, dopamine production is reduced. This can be a sign that the person is feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

They can also be prone to making decisions based on information from other people. This can result in the so-called bandwagon effect where a person follows other people’s gambling habits and thereby makes ill-informed decisions.

These behaviors can be difficult for the gambler to break, but it is possible to take steps to help them. Getting them to talk about their gambling problem can be the first step in helping them to find treatment.

Behavioral treatments for problem gambling include family therapy and self-help groups. These treatments can teach the gambler to recognize and address the reasons for their behavior, as well as how to manage it.

While the problem of gambling is not something that can be fixed, there are ways to treat the symptoms and keep the person on the road to recovery. These treatments can include counseling, medication, and other therapies. They can help the gambler to stop gambling and improve their health and life.