The insula is a region of the brain that is
involved in something that you might not think
about much but it’s the way your body is feeling.
So, are you hungry?
Are you thirsty?
Do you feel nauseous?
Is your heart rate changing?
All these things are coded by the insula,
and we can now add gambling craving to that list.
We invited 19 people with a gambling problem
to come to our MRI centre and whilst they
were in the MRI scanner, we showed them a
series of photographs.
With these photographs, we did manage to elicit
a craving response in people with a gambling
We found that this craving response led to
increased brain activity in the gamblers compared
to the control participants and this was within
multiple regions of the brain, including the
The higher their craving rating, the more
active the insula was.
So this really shows us that the insula is
really coding this craving.
One way that these findings are important
is that they highlight the similarities between
gambling disorder and substance addiction.
We can see that these same parts of the brain
respond to drug related cues in substance
users as we’re seeing respond to gambling
cues in problem gamblers.
It also raises a lot of interesting avenues
In terms of being able to reduce insula activity,
we might be able to reduce cravings.
And in our ongoing work, we’re looking at
a medication called naltrexone that affects
the opioid system.
We know that there are lots of opioid receptors
in the insula.