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Cue Reactivity in Active Pathological, Abstinent Pathological, and Regular Gamblers


Twenty-one treatment-seeking pathological gamblers, 21 pathological gamblers in recovery, and 21 recreational gamblers watched two video-taped exciting gambling scenarios and an exciting roller-coaster control scenario while their arousal (heart rate and subjective excitement) and urge to gamble were being measured. The gamblers did not differ significantly in cue-elicited heart rate elevations or excitement. However, the active pathological gamblers reported significantly greater urges to gamble across all cues compared to the abstinent pathological gamblers and, with marginal significance (p = 0.06), also compared to the social gamblers. Further exploration of these findings revealed that active pathological gamblers experience urges to gamble in response to exciting situations, whether or not they are gambling related, whereas abstinent and social gamblers only report urges to an exciting gambling-related cue. This suggests that for pathological gamblers excitement itself, irrespective of its source, may become a conditioned stimulus capable of triggering gambling behavior. Implications for treatment and future research are discussed.

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