Aims Problem gambling has been proposed to represent a ‘behavioural addiction’ that may provide key insights into vulnerability mechanisms underlying addiction in brains that are not affected by the damaging effects of drugs. Our aim was to investigate the neurocognitive profile of problem gambling in comparison with alcohol dependence. We reasoned that shared deficits across the two conditions may reflect underlying vulnerability mechanisms, whereas impairments specific to alcohol dependence may reflect cumulative effects of alcohol consumption.
Design Cross-sectional study.
Setting Out-patient addiction treatment centres and university behavioural testing facilities.
Participants A naturalistic sample of 21 male problem and pathological gamblers, 21 male alcohol-dependent out-patients and 21 healthy male control participants.
Measurements Neurocognitive battery assessing decision-making, impulsivity and working memory.
Findings The problem gamblers and alcohol-dependent groups displayed impairments in risky decision-making and cognitive impulsivity relative to controls. Working memory deficits and slowed deliberation times were specific to the alcohol-dependent group.
Conclusions Gambling and alcohol-dependent groups shared deficits in tasks linked to ventral prefrontal cortical dysfunction. Tasks loading on dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were selectively impaired in the alcohol-dependent group, presumably as a consequence of long-term alcohol use.