UK study: “Hints that Gambling Addiction may be genetic”

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A new pioneering study, partly funded by the Medical Research Council and conducted by researchers from the University of British Colombia, suggests that there might be genetic predisposition to become hooked to gambling.

Researches took for the first time a group of people with gambling disorder – now recognised as a condition treatable on the NHS – and compared them with their siblings who were not addicts and a control group of random people. They discovered that the siblings were bigger risk takers and more impulsive than the control group, evidence of a genetic predisposition to gambling.

The problem gamblers and their siblings were more likely to act impulsively in the face of negative emotions, and placed larger bets when they faced higher-risk odds. There was, however, no difference in the brain scans of non-gambling siblings and the control group, suggesting that the brain activity found in the addicts may have developed as a result of their gambling.

Personality factors such as impulsivity and risk seeking behaviours are strongly linked with predisposition to addictions. Previous studies have showed that sensation seeking in human beings is inherited, with genetics accounting for 30 to 50 percent of the personality trait.

Addiction may also change people’s brains to become more sensitive to the thrill of betting, the researchers argued. In past researches, MRI brain scans showed that Fortnite and other addictive video games can have a similar effect on children’s brains as drug abuse or alcoholism. They showed the reward system in the brains of young heavy users of video games display the same changes in function and structure as those of alcoholics or drug addicts.

The new study on gambling involved 20 people with addiction and 16 siblings. A relatively small sample size, but study co-author Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones commented: “We hope the study will encourage other researchers to replicate it so we could learn more about how genetics play a role in the gambling disorder”.

Dr. Bowden-Jones is the director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic and lead on behavioural addictions for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Researchers also added that siblings of problem gamblers were particularly difficult to recruit for the study because family relationships are often strained as a result of their addiction.

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