You Can Blame Gambling Behavior on Your Genes

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

You Can Blame Gambling Behavior on Your Genes

The possibility of striking it rich from one hand of poker can be an intoxicating feeling for some people. Plenty of gamblers are willing to drop $1,000 on a spin of a roulette wheel or buy into a blackjack game at $500 a hand, while others would never dream of gambling away their hard-earned money.

According to a new study, when it comes to betting habits, it’s all about genetics.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, National University of Singapore and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that betting decisions in a competitive game are actually influenced by dopamine-regulating genes in the brain. In essence, this research indicates that some people are actually born gamblers.

Details of the Study

The specific genes detailed in this research study affect the role of dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical manufactured in the brain. Dopamine’s job is to regulate the brain’s pleasure and motivational reward system. While a dopamine deficiency can lead to conditions like Parkinson’s disease, a disruption in dopamine function can cause disorders like schizophrenia or depression.

Those students who excelled in anticipating and responding to the actions of their opponents showed a distinct variation in three genes that affect dopamine function…Researchers evaluated more than 200 students, focusing on the variants of 12 genes known to regulate dopamine. Using MRI imaging scans, the students’ brains were studied as they played a competitive game that involved betting against an anonymous opponent. Those students who excelled in anticipating and responding to the actions of their opponents showed a distinct variation in three genes that affect dopamine function in a specific part of the brain.

Dopamine and Gambling Addiction

Perhaps not coincidentally, dopamine is the one brain chemical that has been linked to the incidence of gambling addiction. However, the new study takes this theory much further by indicating genes can affect the way dopamine functions in the brain. While previous research showed dopamine played an important role in social interactions, the UC Berkeley study is the first to successfully link these interactions to specific genes that control dopamine function.

Perhaps not coincidentally, dopamine is the one brain chemical that has been linked to the incidence of gambling addiction.

“This study shows that genes influence complex social behavior, in this case strategic behavior,” said study leader Ming Hsu, an assistant professor of marketing in UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “We now have some clues about the neural mechanisms through which our genes affect behavior.”


Also Read: 8 Pro-Athletes with Outrageous Gambling Addictions

Though additional research will be required, data from the UC Berkeley study seems to support the theory that addiction is, in fact, a disease and not a choice. As scientific knowledge expands, some experts anticipate optimal treatment for addiction could lie in gene therapy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with problem gambling, take action today. Our toll-free helpline can connect you to the best gambling addiction treatment centers. We’re available around the clock at 1-888-366-3510.

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