New Edition Of The Wager Looks At Dopamine, Excitement Levels And Disordered Gambling

The relationship between the brain chemical dopamine and disordered gambling has been well-established over the past several years (we discussed this relationship in the context of Parkinson’s Disease inthe July 2010Issues and Insights). Dopamine is associated with the reward system of the brain, which affects feelings of enjoyment and behavior reinforcement. It and other brain chemicals are, by their very nature, difficult to observe and thus difficult to translate into preventive applications. To bridge the gap between brain chemistry and disordered behavior, researchers can link the two with quantifiable emotions like excitement. The most recent edition ofThe WAGER(Worldwide Addiction Gambling Education Report) reviews a study that looks at those factors as they relate to pathological gambling.

The 2010 study, featured inThe WAGER – Vol. 16(3), examined the amount of dopamine released in the brain, excitement levels and gambling task performance in samples of people with pathological gambling (PG) and healthy controls (HC) (Linnet, Møller, Peterson, Gjedde, & Doudet, 2011). Researchers monitored the dopamine levels of 18 PGs and 16 HCs at baseline and while they completed a gambling task. The participants also reported their feelings of excitement during the task. The researchers found that PGs whose brains released more dopamine reported higher levels of excitement. Additionally, differences in dopamine release from non-gambling to gambling conditions were significantly correlated with changes in excitement level. The authors suggest that dopamine release may be doubly problematic, by reinforcing gambling behaviors and also promoting risky decision-making.

These findings further previous research which suggests that feelings of excitement while gambling reinforce unhealthy behaviors for some people with PG. This subset of people with PG crave feelings of excitement more than recreational gamblers or other people with PG, and may find gambling especially rewarding because of this (Vachon & Bagby, 2009).

For the full review or to access online reviews of research on other addictive disorders, visitThe BASIS (Brief Addiction Science Information Source).
As always, we welcome thoughts and questions in the comments section below.


Linnet, J., Møller, A., Peterson, E., Gjedde, A., & Doudet, D. (2011). Dopamine release in ventral striatum during Iowa Gambling Task performance is associated with increased excitement levels in pathological gambling.Addiction,106(2), 383-390. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03126.x

Vachon, D. D., & Bagby, R. M. (2009). Pathological gambling subtypes.Psychological Assessment,21(4), 608-615. doi:10.1037/a0016846

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