Biological factors regarding pathological gambling have been studied by Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery which implied that chemical addiction and gambling addiction are similar. It has been found that pathological gamblers have low levels of norepinephrine compared to ‘normal’ gamblers.
Alec Roy, M.D. conducted a study at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and discovered norepinephrine is secreted under stress, which pathological gamblers make up for the under dose. Continuously, Harvard Medical School division on addictions constructed an experiment where participants were presented with a win, lose or break situation in an environment similar to a casino. The participants’ reactions were measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures brain activity using changes in blood flow and neuronal activity.
According to the co-director of the motivation and emotion neuroscience they found, “Monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine.” This suggests that deficiencies in serotonin might contribute to the compulsive behaviours that pathological gamblers have.
Other research has shown that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain that is associated with judgment and decision making may be damaged in compulsive gamblers. Pathological gamblers and non-pathological gamblers took mental tests for a study, which demonstrated that compulsive gamblers made worse choices in tasks involved with decision making, attention and inhibitory control in comparison to the other to the other group.
Abnormality in the pre-frontal cortex may be an adding factor in compulsive gambling. Furthermore, this is supported by Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes, the co-author from the department of medicine at Imperial College suggests, “the frontal lobe can help control impulsivity; therefore, a weak link may contribute to people being unable to stop gambling and ignoring the negative consequences of their actions,” he then further goes on to say, “the connections may also be affected by mood – and be further weakened by stress, which may be why gambling addicts relapse during difficult periods in their life.” Continuously, genetics is also another biological factor that donates to compulsive gambling.
Studies have shown that certain individuals are predisposed to develop gambling problems due to their genes. Genes account for as much as 35% of the gambling issues in a person. If damage in the pre-frontal cortex is triggering compulsive gambling, genetics may be the origin of this addiction. Due to the genetic variation amongst individuals, dopamine and norepinephrine may not have identical effect on every individual. Humans that are predisposed to gambling addiction may have a completely different experience of norepinephrine and dopamine that is similar to chemical addictions. As mentioned earlier, norepinephrine and dopamine are released to recapture the thrill from gambling and avoiding stress, therefore a person continues to gamble.
Depression, mania, drug abuse and other psychiatric disorders are present in many pathological gamblers. The disorders mentioned are a contributing factor to gambling problem. An individual that suffers from depression, gambling may provide relief by releasing high levels of dopamine, therefore in order for the depression to go away momentarily the person continues to gamble, and slowly develops into a pathological gambler. In an inverted situation, the pathological gambler can develop depression from gambling because of bankruptcy or losing his or her family, therefore the person will continue to gamble due to the depression. In the two scenarios pathological gambling continues to maintain itself, regardless of where the disorder was created.