Rare gene behind gambling addiction

June 04, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 06:05 am IST - JAIPUR:

Blame it on the D-2 receptor gene! The players of the Indian Premier League (IPL) who have brought a bad name to cricket by spot-fixing may be carrying this rare genetic material which is shared by “passionate gamblers” alone.

Expounding this theory, a Jaipur-based neurologist said here on Monday that gambling is an act entirely dependent on brain activity. Gambling releases endorphins that stimulate painless pleasure as well as the desire for continuous betting, rendering an IPL-style scam a vicious circle.

Ashok Panagariya, recipient of the prestigious B. C. Roy Award, said medical scientists have recently isolated the D-2 receptor, commonly known as the “gambling gene”, as part of genetic engineering studies for treatment of gambling addicts who have lost fortunes and become bankrupt.

“The currently developing genetically-engineered retrovirus gene therapy will be able to re-programme the existing DNA of the affected individuals. This will make a considerable difference in the way a pathological gambler thinks and acts,” Dr. Panagariya told The Hindu .

Explaining the neurology of gambling, Dr. Panagariya said low levels of serotonin and high levels of dopamine and endorphins are the major biochemical factors found in all passionate gamblers. The areas in the brain which light up on positron emission tomography (PET) scan include those which deal with increased risk and rewards, covering emotions causing short-term happiness or chilling effect.

Dr. Panagariya, who retired as the Principal of Sawai Man Singh Government Medical College here, is a member of the Rajasthan State Planning Board. His work on Neuromyotonia and nerve cells has been widely acclaimed by world-class authorities.

The 63-year-old neurologist said that when it comes to gambling, the human brain seems to take a very different approach. Near misses such as a lottery ticket just one number away from the jackpot are interpreted as wins putting an individual in the compulsive push of “try again and again”, leading to a dangerous addiction.

Even though most gamblers lose, several others attempt to risk their hard-earned money. “It is the human nature to feel excited when taking risks. The positive feeling gained from the sense of anticipation of a win creates a natural high, an adrenaline rush, which many of us seek when looking for [further] entertainment,” said Dr. Panagariya.

In the context of betting on IPL matches, gambling has been portrayed as “glamorous, stylish, sexy and fashionable”, often carrying the suggestions of belonging to the glitterati and creating a temporary phase of utopia, said the neurologist. The gambling environment, thus, provides escape from everyday life.

A clear paradox in gambling is that most people think about it as a “low-risk, high-yield” proposition, but in reality it is the opposite: a “high-risk, low-yield” situation, said Dr. Panagariya. Despite this, the thought and excitement of hitting a casino jackpot are often too alluring regardless of its probability.

“The best course is to try your luck occasionally for a hit rather than frequently for the misses,” advises Dr. Panagariya.

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