New research from the National Center for Responsible Gaming and its Institute of Research on Gambling Disorders suggests that the brain activity of problem gamblers is similar to that of drug users. An individual’s genetic makeup and the environment during youth can predispose a person to find in gambling – as he or she might in alcohol, cocaine, or nicotine – a feel-good result that becomes a craving.

Addiction, whether in the form of gambling, drugs or overeating, turns on the reward section of the brain. As a result, new drugs such as Naltrexone are focused on blocking the opioid transmitters in the brain. Note: the research on Naltrexone was largely conducted by University of Minnesota researchers Dr. Jon Grant and Dr. Suck Kim.

The findings, which add to a growing body of evidence produced by the scientific community demonstrating inherent similarities in the symptoms of all addictive behaviors, hold great implications. The more program gambling is seen as an addictive behavior, the more likely it will be formally included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That would enable more thorough and effective treatment in the health care system and would increase the availability of research funding.

“The decision to group problem gambling with substance addictions has the potential to shine a greater social, research and treatment spotlight on this serious public health issue,” says Dr. Jon Grant, co-director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis. “Although the grouping of gambling with substance addictions is a notable advancement, we should be cautious not to forget the heterogeneity of problem gamblers as well as the need to examine the significant ways that gambling differs from many substance addictions.”