Behavioral addictions, which are different from addictions to psychoactive substances, have also been found to produce short-term rewards that encourage people to show persistent behavior despite facing its consequences. Many people with behavioral addictions like pathological gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, kleptomania, compulsive buying, etc., suffer from an intense urge or craving prior to initiating the behavior. Behavioral addiction like problem gambling is a serious brain disorder caused due to an array of psychological, biological and sociological factors.
In many people, gambling, be it compulsive or pathological, is associated with serious problems. However, there is a slight difference between compulsive gambling and problem gambling. While compulsive gambling can be categorized as an impulse-control disorder, problem gambling is a more serious form, wherein the person continues to gamble despite facing consequences such as disruption of life.
While there are traditional methods to treat the conditions, researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychology and Centre for Gambling Research have discovered the part of the brain that is involved in behavioral addictions. Thus, the treatments that target this part of the brain can provide a long-term respite to people with problem gambling.
Treatment to overcome strong urges
In the study published recently in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the scientists revealed that any treatment targeting insula part of the brain (region involved in behavioral addictions) could help people with gambling problem overcome their urges. According to the experts, insula has been identified as a hub for cravings in several studies. While there was an increased brain activity in parts of the frontal cortex of the brain, a close link was also observed in activities in the insula region, as seen in case of drug addiction.
It was observed that every aspect of gambling, including lights, sounds of the slot machines, smell of casino and likewise, act as strong triggers for the patient. Failing to control these triggers eventually leads to a relapse. A treatment targeting the insula region will not only help in curbing the urges, but also assist in toning down the responses to the cravings. Lately, studies are being conducted to explore the effects of naltrexone, a medication used to treat alcohol and heroin addiction, in changing these brain responses in problem gamblers.
Treating problem gambling
Problem gambling is “highly disabling both to the individual and to society, often leading to suicide, job loss, and criminal behavior,” observed an old study conducted by American Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Defining gambling as a chronic disorder, the study suggested treating the condition with drug therapy such as naltrexone. “Drug therapy with naltrexone should last for at least two years and be complemented with other treatment,” the study revealed.
Additionally, the patients can also undergo group therapies or seek support from counselors to kick the habit. In severe cases, careful monitoring and holistic treatments are required to avoid a relapse. Moreover, therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be helpful in treating the condition.
Recovery road map
It is good to indulge in some life-changing practices, such as practicing meditation, regular physical exercise or playing a sport to relax the mind and keep compulsive thoughts at bay. However, if the symptoms continue for a longer period, even when the trigger has subsided, it is important to seek immediate psychiatric help.