Background: Behavioral addictions like pathological gambling share many clinical characteristics with substance dependence. In addition, both types of disorders are associated with impairments in inhibitory control. Studies in patients with substance use disorders point to hyporesponsiveness of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. However, no such data exist on behavioral addictions.
Methods: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the neural circuitry associated with impaired response inhibition in a group of male problem gamblers (n=17) using a stop signal task. We included control conditions tailored to specifically isolate neural correlates of inhibitory control. To investigate the specificity of effects, a group of heavy smokers (n=18) and a group of healthy controls (n=17) were also included.
Results: Groups did not differ in behavioral performance on the stop signal task. However, both problem gamblers and heavy smokers showed hyporesponsiveness of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex compared to healthy controls, during successful as well as failed response inhibition. These effects were robust against adjustments for depression and adult attention deficit scores.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that hypoactivation of the inhibition circuit is a shared neural mechanism in substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. As such, they support the reclassification of pathological gambling as a behavioral addiction in DSM-V.
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