Pathological and problem gambling are major problems in the U.S. today. According to a ClearLead article, “…about 2.5 million adults in America are pathological gamblers and another 3 million of them should be considered problem gamblers; 15 million adults are at a risk for problem gambling and about 148 million are low-risk gamblers.” Problem gambling is often defined as “characterized by many difficulties in limiting money and/or time spent on gambling which leads to adverse consequences for the gambler, others, or for the community” whereas pathological gambling is considered a psychological impulse disorder. Both create difficulties for individuals who can’t control their gambling, and present a host of negative consequences for their families and friends.
Now, brain scientists have made a discovery that could be the first step in finding neurological or brain plasticity-based therapies for gambling addicts. A research team from Caltech and University College London found an area of the brain that’s strongly correlated with the fear of losing money: the amygdala, an almond-shaped brain structure that plays a strong role in emotional regulation.
The team studied money-related risk behaviors in people with normal and damaged amygdalae. Those with the damaged amygdalae showed a predilection to take risky behaviors that led to losing money. This is good news, as science may eventually be able to leverage this important finding to devise creative brain-based ways of addressing gambling addiction.
You can read more details about the research here.