Background: Individuals with gambling or substance-use disorders exhibit similar functional alterations in reward circuitry suggestive of a shared underlying vulnerability in addictive disorders. Additional research into common and unique alterations in reward-processing in substance-related and non-substance-related addictions may identify neural factors that could be targeted in treatment development for these disorders.
Methods: To investigate contextual reward-processing in pathological gambling, a slot-machine fMRI task was performed by three groups (with pathological gambling, cocaine dependence and neither disorder; N = 24 each) to determine the extent to which two groups with addictions (non-substance-related and substance-related) showed similarities and differences with respect to each other and a non-addicted group during anticipatory periods and following the delivery of winning, losing and ‘near-miss’ outcomes.
Results: Individuals with pathological gambling or cocaine dependence compared to those with neither disorder exhibited exaggerated anticipatory activity in mesolimbic and ventrocortical regions, with pathological-gambling participants displaying greater positive possible-reward anticipation and cocaine-dependent participants displaying more negative certain-loss anticipation. Neither clinical sample exhibited medial frontal or striatal responses that were observed following near-miss outcomes in healthy comparison participants.
Conclusions: Alterations in anticipatory processing may be sensitive to the valence of rewards and content-disorder-specific. Common and unique findings in pathological gambling and cocaine dependence with respect to anticipatory reward and near-miss loss processing suggest shared and unique elements that might be targeted through behavioral or pharmacological interventions in the treatment of addictions.