Gambling Addiction Potentially Genetic, New Study Reveals

  • Research compares gambling addicts, their siblings, and control group
  • Siblings showed similar reactions to addicts in terms of gambling behavior
  • Brain scans did not exhibit any differences between addicts and siblings
  • Study suggests genetically predisposed individuals much more likely to become gambling addicts
hooded poker player sitting at poker table with cards and chips
A new UK study comparing gambling addicts, their siblings, and a control group indicates that the human brain may very well be genetically predisposed to gambling addiction. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Research reveals new findings

A new UK study has indicated there could be a genetic predisposition in gambling addicts that gets them more easily hooked. The research also shows that an addict’s brains may change, making one more sensitive to the thrills they derive from gambling. 

the first study that brought together subjects with a gambling disorder and compared them with their non-addict siblings

This was the first study that brought together subjects with a gambling disorder and compared them with their non-addict siblings, as well as with a control group.

Siblings show similarities

The findings of the study show that the siblings of addicts are more impulsive and more willing to take risks than other individuals, represented by the control group. This provides evidence for the theory that gambling addiction is potentially genetic. 

The researchers also observed that the subjects with gambling problems and their siblings were more likely to react impulsively when dealing with negative emotions. When higher-risk odds were on the table, they also opted to place bigger bets.

siblings of addicts are more impulsive and more willing to take risks

The brain scans of the various groups did not signal any differences. This indicates that the brain activity seen in those with a gambling addiction could develop over time due to their habit. 

Background to the study

The pioneering study received partial funding from the UK’s Medical Research Council and was carried out by researchers from the University of British Columbia. The subjects involved were 20 people with gambling addictions, taken from the National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, and their 16 siblings. 

The London clinic director Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones said, “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.”

The research team had difficulty recruiting the addicts’ siblings for the study. They concluded that the reason behind this could be that family ties can get strained in cases of addiction.

Brain activity of addicts

Previous research studies on gambling addiction looked at MRI brain scans of children who were playing addictive video games such as Fortnite. The scans obtained suggested that such addictive games can have a similar effect on a child’s brain as that observed with alcohol or drug abuse.