GAMBLING is extremely popular, with lottery tickets, casinos, slot machines, bingo halls and other forms of the activity generating revenues of more than £80 billion each year in the UK alone. For most people, gambling is nothing more than an entertaining way to pass the time. But for some, it becomes a compulsive and pathological habit – they spend increasing amounts of time gambling, because tolerance builds up quickly, and experience withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t gambling.
The terms “tolerance” and “withdrawal” are normally associated with drug addiction, and indeed pathological gambling is now considered as being akin to substance abuse. We know, for example, that monetary wins activate the brain’s reward circuitry. In pathological gamblers, however, these responses are dampened, so that increasingly larger wins are needed to produce the same rewarding effects. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, near misses fuel the habit in regular gamblers, because they are almost as rewarding as wins.