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New UK Study Suggests That Gambling Addiction May Be Genetic

Gambling Addiction

A new study from the University of British Colombia has found evidence that gambling addiction may be genetic.

The study, partly funded by the Medical Research Council, compared 20 people with gambling addictions from the UK National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, 16 siblings who did not gamble as well as a non-gambling control group. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire and cognitive computer tests which measured impulsivity and risk-taking behaviour.

The results of the research, which were published in Neuropsychopharmacology, revealed that the addicts and their siblings were more likely to act impulsively when faced with negative emotions. Researchers also found that addicts and their siblings were more likely to place larger bets when presented with high-risk odds.

As part of the study, participants underwent brain scanning in an MRI while playing a slot machine game to measure brain responses to rewards and wins. Researchers found that the siblings showed no alterations in response to rewards compared to the non-gambling control group. According to the study, this suggests that the brain activity in addicts comes as a result of their frequent gambling experience.

The study is the first to examine vulnerabilities to gambling by looking at siblings, Eureka Alert reports. However, the scientists noted that it was difficult to recruit siblings for the study since many family relationships are strained as a consequence of an addict’s gambling addiction.

What They Say

Lead author Eve Limbrick-Oldfield, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Colombia department of psychology and Centre for Gambling Research, said in a statement: “Impulsivity, risk decision-making and altered brain reward processing are observed in people with gambling disorder.”

She continued, saying: “We wanted to find out whether these markers represent pre-existing vulnerabilities or are a consequence of how gambling changes the brain. To test this, we studied gamblers’ siblings since they share similar genetic material and environment.”

Co-author Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the Director of the UK’s National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, added: “Since our study had a relatively small sample size, we hope it will encourage other researchers to replicate it so we could learn more about how genetics play a role in the gambling disorder.”

The news comes just days after a study carried out by Cardiff University academics found that over 40% of all children in the UK have gambled recently. Both studies suggest that more needs to be done in raising awareness of gambling problems and promoting responsible gambling.

If you feel you or someone you know may be suffering from gambling problems, check out our support page for advice and contact information of services and charities which can help. 

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