In problem gamblers, diminished cognitive control and increased impulsivity is present compared to healthy controls. Moreover, impulsivity has been found to be a vulnerability marker for the development of pathological gambling (PG) and problem gambling (PrG) and to be a predictor of relapse. In this review, the most recent findings on functioning of the brain circuitry relating to impulsivity and cognitive control in PG and PrG are discussed. Diminished functioning of several prefrontal areas and of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) indicate that cognitive-control related brain circuitry functions are diminished in PG and PrG compared to healthy controls. From the available cue reactivity studies on PG and PrG, increased responsiveness towards gambling stimuli in fronto-striatal reward circuitry and brain areas related to attentional processing is present compared to healthy controls. At this point it is unresolved whether PG is associated with hyper- or hypo-activity in the reward circuitry in response to monetary cues. More research is needed to elucidate the complex interactions for reward responsivity in different stages of gambling and across different types of reward. Conflicting findings from basic neuroscience studies are integrated in the context of recent neurobiological addiction models. Neuroscience studies on the interface between cognitive control and motivational processing are discussed in light of current addiction theories.
Clinical implications: We suggest that innovation in PG therapy should focus on improvement of dysfunctional cognitive control and/or motivational functions. The implementation of novel treatment methods like neuromodulation, cognitive training and pharmacological interventions as add-on therapies to standard treatment in PG and PrG, in combination with the study of their effects on brain-behavior mechanisms could prove an important clinical step forward towards personalizing and improving treatment results in PG.
pathological gambling; disordered gambling; reward sensitivity; impulsivity; cue reactivity; response inhibition; review; addictive behaviors
Very few studies have investigated the ”real world” prospective, predictive value of behavioral instruments used in laboratory studies to test decision-making abilities or impulse control. The current study examines the degree to which two commonly used decision-making/impulse control measures prospectively predict (heavy) alcohol use in a sample of college students.
200 healthy young adults (50% female), performed the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and a StopSignal inhibition task in the second college year. At testing and at the end of the fourth college year, heavy alcohol use was assessed.
Disadvantageous performance on the IGT was associated with higher scores on a heavy drinking measure and higher quantity/frequency of alcohol use two years past neurocognitive testing in male students even after controlling for prior drinking. These results were corrected for heavy drinking and alcohol use in the period before neurocognitive testing. Interactions with gender indicated that this general pattern held for male but not female students. Level of response inhibition was not associated with either of the alcohol use measures prospectively.
These findings indicate that a neurocognitive decision-making task is predictive of maladaptive alcohol use. Advantageous decision makers appear to show adaptive real life decision-making, changing their drinking habits to the changing challenges of early adulthood (e.g., finishing college), whereas disadvantageous decision-makers do not, and continue to drink heavily. These findings extend earlier findings of neurocognitive predictors of relapse in clinical substance dependent groups, to subclinical alcohol use and abuse.
alcohol use; college students; decision-making; impulsivity; response inhibition
One hallmark of gambling disorder (GD) is the observation that gamblers have problems stopping their gambling behavior once it is initiated. On a neuropsychological level, it has been hypothesized that this is the result of a cognitive inflexibility. The present study investigated cognitive inflexibility in patients with GD using a task involving cognitive inflexibility with a reward element (i.e., reversal learning) and a task measuring general cognitive inflexibility without such a component (i.e., response perseveration). For this purpose, scores of a reward-based reversal learning task (probabilistic reversal learning task) and the Wisconsin card sorting task were compared between a group of treatment seeking patients with GD and a gender and age matched control group. The results show that pathological gamblers have impaired performance on the neurocognitive task measuring reward-based cognitive inflexibility. However, no difference between the groups is observed regarding non-reward-based cognitive inflexibility. This suggests that cognitive inflexibility in GD is the result of an aberrant reward-based learning, and not based on a more general problem with cognitive flexibility. The pattern of observed problems is suggestive of a dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and the ventral regions of the striatum in gamblers. Relevance for the neurocognition of problematic gambling is discussed.
gambling disorder; reward-based; cognitive inflexibility; reversal learning; WCST
To investigate which clusters of gambling activities exist within a longitudinal study of college health, how membership in gambling clusters change over time and whether particular clusters of gambling are associated with unhealthy risk behaviour.
Four-year longitudinal study (2002–2006).
Large, public university.
Undergraduate college students.
Ten common gambling activities were measured during 4 consecutive college years (years 1–4). Clusters of gambling activities were examined using latent class analyses. Relations between gambling clusters and gender, Greek membership, alcohol use, drug use, personality indicators of behavioural undercontrol and psychological distress were examined.
Four latent gambling classes were identified: (1) a low-gambling class, (2) a card gambling class, (3) a casino/slots gambling class and (4) an extensive gambling class. Over the first college years a high probability of transitioning from the low-gambling class and the card gambling class into the casino/slots gambling class was present. Membership in the card, casino/slots and extensive gambling classes were associated with higher scores on alcohol/drug use, novelty seeking and self-identified gambling problems compared to the low-gambling class. The extensive gambling class scored higher than the other gambling classes on risk factors.
Extensive gamblers and card gamblers are at higher risk for problem gambling and other risky health behaviours. Prospective examinations of class membership suggested that being in the extensive and the low gambling classes was highly stable across the 4 years of college.
College student population; gambling; gambling activities; longitudinal; risk factors
Behavioral decision making, as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is found to be diminished in individuals with substance dependence and other types of disinhibitory psychopathology. However, little is known regarding the relation between heavy alcohol use and decision-making skills in young adults. This study therefore investigated whether binge drinking is related to disadvantageous decision making, as measured by the IGT. We also examined the relation between decision making and impulsivity.
Latent class growth analysis was used to classify college students into 4 groups (each group n = 50, 50% male), based on their binge drinking trajectories over a 2-year time period (precollege through second year of college). Participants were 200 college students, divided in 4 subgroups: (1) low binge drinkers, (2) stable moderate binge drinkers, (3) increasing binge drinkers, and (4) stable high binge drinkers. A measure of decision making, the IGT, impulsivity questionnaires, and multiple indicators of heavy alcohol use were included.
The stable high binge-drinking group made less advantageous choices on the IGT than the low binge-drinking group. Impulsivity was not related to decision-making performance. Decision-making performance did not differ by gender, but deck preferences and decision time patterns did differ; women preferred low frequency, high amount punishments to a greater extent than men.
Although disadvantageous decision making is related to binge-drinking patterns in emerging adulthood, this relation is independent of impulsivity. Additionally, the association appears attributable to those who engage in heavy (binge) drinking at an early age, but not to age of onset of drinking in general.
Alcohol Use; Neurocognition; Reward Sensitivity; College Population; Gender
Treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) normalizes glutamate (Glu) homeostasis and prevents relapse in drug-dependent animals. However, the effect of NAC on brain Glu levels in substance-dependent humans has not yet been investigated. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) was used to investigate Glu changes in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) after a single dose of NAC in cocaine-dependent patients and normal controls. In an open-label, randomized, crossover study, 8 cocaine-dependent patients and 14 healthy controls underwent two scan sessions: one group receiving no compound and the other following a single administration of 2400 mg NAC. The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale was administered to examine the relation between dACC Glu levels and impulsivity. In the medication-free condition, Glu levels in the dACC were significantly higher in cocaine-dependent patients compared with healthy controls. After administration of NAC, Glu levels were reduced in the cocaine-dependent group, whereas NAC had no effect in healthy controls. Higher baseline Glu levels were associated with higher impulsivity, and both were predictive of greater NAC-induced Glu reduction. The current findings indicate that NAC can normalize elevated Glu levels in cocaine-dependent patients. These findings may have important implications for treatment, because abnormal Glu levels are related to relapse, and treatment with NAC prevented relapse in animal studies. Furthermore, clinical studies have indicated beneficial effects of NAC in cocaine-dependent patients, and the current study suggests that these beneficial effects might in part be mediated by the ability of NAC to normalize glutamatergic abnormalities.
cocaine dependence; N-acetylcysteine; glutamate; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; impulsivity; cocaine dependence; N-acetylcysteine; glutamate; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; impulsivity
Cognitive biases, including implicit memory associations are thought to play an important role in the development of addictive behaviors. The aim of the present study was to investigate implicit affective memory associations in heavy cannabis users. Implicit positive-arousal, sedation, and negative associations toward cannabis were measured with three Single Category Implicit Association Tests (SC-IAT’s) and compared between 59 heavy cannabis users and 89 controls. Moreover, we investigated the relationship between these implicit affective associations and explicit expectancies, subjective craving, cannabis use, and cannabis related problems. Results show that heavy cannabis users had stronger implicit positive-arousal associations but weaker implicit negative associations toward cannabis compared to controls. Moreover, heavy cannabis users had stronger sedation but weaker negative explicit expectancies toward cannabis compared to controls. Within heavy cannabis users, more cannabis use was associated with stronger implicit negative associations whereas more cannabis use related problems was associated with stronger explicit negative expectancies, decreasing the overall difference on negative associations between cannabis users and controls. No other associations were observed between implicit associations, explicit expectancies, measures of cannabis use, cannabis use related problems, or subjective craving. These findings indicate that, in contrast to other substances of abuse like alcohol and tobacco, the relationship between implicit associations and cannabis use appears to be weak in heavy cannabis users.
cannabis; implicit association test; cannabis use disorder; craving; affective associations
Motivational and cognitive abnormalities are frequently reported in pathological gambling. However, studies simultaneously investigating motivational and cognitive processing in problematic gamblers are lacking, limiting our understanding of the interplay between these systems in problematic gambling. Studies in non-clinical samples indicate that interactions between dorsal “executive” and ventral “affective” processing systems are necessary for adequate responses in various emotive situations.
We conducted a generalized Psycho-Physiological Interaction (gPPI) analysis to assess the influence of affective stimuli on changes in functional connectivity associated with response inhibition in 16 treatment seeking problematic gamblers (PRGs) and 15 healthy controls (HCs) using an affective Go-NoGo fMRI paradigm including neutral, gambling-related, positive and negative pictures as neutral and affective conditions.
Across groups, task performance accuracy during neutral inhibition trials was positively correlated with functional connectivity between the left caudate and the right middle frontal cortex. During inhibition in the gambling condition, only in PRGs accuracy of task performance was positively correlated with functional connectivity within sub-regions of the dorsal executive system. Group interactions showed that during neutral inhibition, HCs exhibited greater functional connectivity between the left caudate and occipital cortex than PRGs. In contrast, during inhibition in the positive condition, PRGs compared to HCs showed greater functional connectivity between the left caudate and occipital cortex. During inhibition trials in the negative condition, a stronger functional connectivity between the left caudate and the right anterior cingulate cortex in PRGs compared to HCs was present. There were no group interactions during inhibition in the gambling condition.
During gamble inhibition PRGs seem to benefit more from functional connectivity within the dorsal executive system than HCs, because task accuracy in this condition in PRGs is positively correlated with functional connectivity, although the groups show similar connectivity patterns during gamble inhibition. Greater functional connectivity between the ventral affective system and the dorsal executive system in PRGs in the affective conditions compared to HCs, suggests facilitation of the dorsal executive system when affective stimuli are present specifically in PRGs.
A potentially powerful predictor for the course of drug (ab)use is the approach-bias, that is, the pre-reflective tendency to approach rather than avoid drug-related stimuli. Here we investigated the neural underpinnings of cannabis approach and avoidance tendencies. By elucidating the predictive power of neural approach-bias activations for future cannabis use and problem severity, we aimed at identifying new intervention targets. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), neural approach-bias activations were measured with a Stimulus Response Compatibility task (SRC) and compared between 33 heavy cannabis users and 36 matched controls. In addition, associations were examined between approach-bias activations and cannabis use and problem severity at baseline and at six-month follow-up. Approach-bias activations did not differ between heavy cannabis users and controls. However, within the group of heavy cannabis users, a positive relation was observed between total lifetime cannabis use and approach-bias activations in various fronto-limbic areas. Moreover, approach-bias activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) independently predicted cannabis problem severity after six months over and beyond session-induced subjective measures of craving. Higher DLPFC/ACC activity during cannabis approach trials, but lower activity during cannabis avoidance trials were associated with decreases in cannabis problem severity. These findings suggest that cannabis users with deficient control over cannabis action tendencies are more likely to develop cannabis related problems. Moreover, the balance between cannabis approach and avoidance responses in the DLPFC and ACC may help identify individuals at-risk for cannabis use disorders and may be new targets for prevention and treatment.
Humans vary in their ability to delay gratification and impulsive decision making is a common feature in various psychiatric disorders. The level of delay discounting is a relatively stable psychological trait, and therefore neural processes implicated in delay discounting are likely to be based on the overall functional organization of the brain (under task-free conditions) in which state-dependent shifts from baseline levels occur. The current study investigated whether delay discounting can be predicted by intrinsic properties of brain functioning. Fourteen healthy male subjects performed a delay discounting task. In addition, resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (¹H MRS) were used to investigate the relationship between individual differences in delay discounting and molecular and regional measures of resting state (baseline) activity of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). Results showed that delay discounting was associated with both dACC glutamate concentrations and resting state functional connectivity of the dACC with a midbrain region including ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra. In addition, a neural pathway was established, showing that the effect of glutamate concentrations in the dACC on delay discounting is mediated by functional connectivity of the dACC with the midbrain. The current findings are important to acknowledge because spontaneous intrinsic brain processes have been proposed to be a potential promising biomarker of disease and impulsive decision making is associated with several psychiatric disorders.
Anterior cingulate cortex; delay discounting; glutamate; impulsive decision making; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; resting state fMRI
Abnormal cue reactivity is a central characteristic of addiction, associated with increased activity in motivation, attention and memory related brain circuits. In this neuroimaging study, cue reactivity in problem gamblers (PRG) was compared with cue reactivity in heavy smokers (HSM) and healthy controls (HC). A functional magnetic resonance imaging event-related cue reactivity paradigm, consisting of gambling, smoking-related and neutral pictures, was employed in 17 treatment-seeking non-smoking PRG, 18 non-gambling HSM, and 17 non-gambling and non-smoking HC. Watching gambling pictures (relative to neutral pictures) was associated with higher brain activation in occipitotemporal areas, posterior cingulate cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala in PRG compared with HC and HSM. Subjective craving in PRG correlated positively with brain activation in left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left insula. When comparing the HSM group with the two other groups, no significant differences in brain activity induced by smoking cues were found. In a stratified analysis, the HSM subgroup with higher Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence scores (FTND M = 5.4) showed higher brain activation in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, insula and middle/superior temporal gyrus while watching smoking-related pictures (relative to neutral pictures) than the HSM subgroup with lower FTND scores (FTND M = 2.9) and than non-smoking HC. Nicotine craving correlated with activation in left prefrontal and left amygdala when viewing smoking-related pictures in HSM. Increased regional responsiveness to gambling pictures in brain regions linked to motivation and visual processing is present in PRG, similar to neural mechanisms underlying cue reactivity in substance dependence. Increased brain activation in related fronto-limbic brain areas was present in HSM with higher FTND scores compared with HSM with lower FTND scores.
Addiction; cue reactivity; fMRI; impulse control disorder; nicotine dependence; pathological gambling
Patients with alcohol dependence (AD) and pathological gambling (PG) are characterized by dysfunctional reward processing and their ability to adapt to alterations of reward contingencies is impaired. However, most neurocognitive tasks investigating reward processing involve a complex mix of elements, such as working memory, immediate and delayed rewards, and risk-taking. As a consequence, it is not clear whether contingency learning is altered in AD or PG. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine performance in a deterministic contingency learning task, investigating discrimination, reversal, and extinction learning.
Thirty-three alcohol-dependent patients (ADs), 28 pathological gamblers (PGs), and 18 healthy controls (HCs) performed a contingency learning task in which they learned stimulus–reward associations that were first reversed and later extinguished while receiving deterministic feedback throughout. Accumulated points, number of perseverative errors and trials required to reach a criterion in each learning phase were compared between groups using nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis rank-sum tests. Regression analyses were performed to compare learning curves.
PGs and ADs did not differ from HCs in discrimination learning, reversal learning, or extinction learning, on the nonparametric tests. Regression analyses, however, showed differences in the initial speed of learning: PGs were significantly faster in discrimination learning compared to ADs, and both PGs and ADs learned slower than HCs in the reversal learning and extinction phases of the task.
Learning rates for reversal and extinction were slower for the alcohol-dependent group and PG group compared to HCs, suggesting that reversing and extinguishing learned contingencies require more effort in ADs and PGs. This implicates a diminished flexibility to overcome previously learned contingencies.
Reversal Learning; Extinction Learning; Alcohol Dependence; Pathological Gambling; Orbitofrontal Cortex
Maladaptive impulsivity is a core symptom in various psychiatric disorders. However, there is only limited evidence available on whether different measures of impulsivity represent largely unrelated aspects or a unitary construct. In a cross-species translational study, thirty rats were trained in impulsive choice (delayed reward task) and impulsive action (five-choice serial reaction time task) paradigms. The correlation between those measures was assessed during baseline performance and after pharmacological manipulations with the psychostimulant amphetamine and the norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor atomoxetine. In parallel, to validate the animal data, 101 human subjects performed analogous measures of impulsive choice (delay discounting task, DDT) and impulsive action (immediate and delayed memory task, IMT/DMT). Moreover, all subjects completed the Stop Signal Task (SST, as an additional measure of impulsive action) and filled out the Barratt impulsiveness scale (BIS-11). Correlations between DDT and IMT/DMT were determined and a principal component analysis was performed on all human measures of impulsivity. In both rats and humans measures of impulsive choice and impulsive action did not correlate. In rats the within-subject pharmacological effects of amphetamine and atomoxetine did not correlate between tasks, suggesting distinct underlying neural correlates. Furthermore, in humans, principal component analysis identified three independent factors: (1) self-reported impulsivity (BIS-11); (2) impulsive action (IMT/DMT and SST); (3) impulsive choice (DDT). This is the first study directly comparing aspects of impulsivity using a cross-species translational approach. The present data reveal the non-unitary nature of impulsivity on a behavioral and pharmacological level. Collectively, this warrants a stronger focus on the relative contribution of distinct forms of impulsivity in psychopathology.
Disinhibition over drug use, enhanced salience of drug use and decreased salience of natural reinforcers are thought to play an important role substance dependence. Whether this is also true for pathological gambling is unclear. To understand the effects of affective stimuli on response inhibition in problem gamblers (PRGs), we designed an affective Go/Nogo to examine the interaction between response inhibition and salience attribution in 16 PRGs and 15 healthy controls (HCs).
Four affective blocks were presented with Go trials containing neutral, gamble, positive or negative affective pictures. The No-Go trials in these blocks contained neutral pictures. Outcomes of interest included percentage of impulsive errors and mean reaction times in the different blocks. Brain activity related to No-Go trials was assessed to measure response inhibition in the various affective conditions and brain activity related to Go trials was assessed to measure salience attribution.
PRGs made fewer errors during gamble and positive trials than HCs, but were slower during all trials types. Compared to HCs, PRGs activated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate and ventral striatum to a greater extent while viewing gamble pictures. The dorsal lateral and inferior frontal cortex were more activated in PRGs than in HCs while viewing positive and negative pictures. During neutral inhibition, PRGs were slower but similar in accuracy to HCs, and showed more dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex activity. In contrast, during gamble and positive pictures PRGs performed better than HCs, and showed lower activation of the dorsolateral and anterior cingulate cortex.
This study shows that gambling-related stimuli are more salient for PRGs than for HCs. PRGs seem to rely on compensatory brain activity to achieve similar performance during neutral response inhibition. A gambling-related or positive context appears to facilitate response inhibition as indicated by lower brain activity and fewer behavioural errors in PRGs.
This article reviews the neuroimaging research on pathological gambling (PG). Because of the similarities between substance dependence and PG, PG research has used paradigms similar to those used in substance use disorder research, focusing on reward and punishment sensitivity, cue reactivity, impulsivity, and decision making. This review shows that PG is consistently associated with blunted mesolimbic-prefrontal cortex activation to nonspecific rewards, whereas these areas show increased activation when exposed to gambling-related stimuli in cue exposure paradigms. Very little is known, and hence more research is needed regarding the neural underpinnings of impulsivity and decision making in PG. This review concludes with a discussion regarding the challenges and new developments in the field of neurobiological gambling research and comments on their implications for the treatment of PG.
Pathological gambling; Addiction; Neuroimaging; Neuropsychology
Repeated drug exposure can lead to an approach-bias, i.e. the relatively automatically triggered tendencies to approach rather that avoid drug-related stimuli. Our main aim was to study this approach-bias in heavy cannabis users with the newly developed cannabis Approach Avoidance Task (cannabis-AAT) and to investigate the predictive relationship between an approach-bias for cannabis-related materials and levels of cannabis use, craving, and the course of cannabis use.
Design, settings and participants
Cross-sectional assessment and six-month follow-up in 32 heavy cannabis users and 39 non-using controls.
Approach and avoidance action-tendencies towards cannabis and neutral images were assessed with the cannabis AAT. During the AAT, participants pulled or pushed a joystick in response to image orientation. To generate additional sense of approach or avoidance, pulling the joystick increased picture size while pushing decreased it. Craving was measured pre- and post-test with the multi-factorial Marijuana Craving Questionnaire (MCQ). Cannabis use frequencies and levels of dependence were measured at baseline and after a six-month follow-up.
Heavy cannabis users demonstrated an approach-bias for cannabis images, as compared to controls. The approach-bias predicted changes in cannabis use at six-month follow-up. The pre-test MCQ emotionality and expectancy factor were associated negatively with the approach-bias. No effects were found on levels of cannabis dependence.
Heavy cannabis users with a strong approach-bias for cannabis are more likely to increase their cannabis use. This approach-bias could be used as a predictor of the course of cannabis use to identify individuals at risk from increasing cannabis use.
Approach avoidance task; approach-bias; cannabis; cannabis use disorder; craving; dependence