, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 53-84

Neurodevelopment, Impulsivity, and Adolescent Gambling

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Abstract

The prevalence of problem and pathological gambling in adolescence and young adulthood has been found to be two- to fourfold higher than in adulthood. Given that these high rates might predict future increases across all age groups, it is important to explore the causes of the elevated rates of problem and pathological gambling among youths. This article reviews evidence for a neurobiological basis for adolescent vulnerability to problem and pathological gambling behaviors. We propose that a common trait motif of impulsivity might underlie phenomenology of pathological gambling, commonly comorbid psychiatric disorders, and related aspects of adolescent behavior. Recent advances in understanding the brain mechanisms involved in motivation, reward, and decision-making allow a discussion of neural circuitry underlying impulsivity. Emerging data indicate that important neurodevelopmental events during adolescence occur in brain regions associated with motivation and impulsive behavior. We hypothesize that immaturity of frontal cortical and subcortical monoaminergic systems during normal neurodevelopment underlies adolescent impulsivity as a transitional trait-behavior. While these neurodevelopmental processes may confer advantage by promoting a learning drive for optimal adaptation to adult roles, they may also confer an increased vulnerability to addictive behaviors such as problem and pathological gambling. An exploration of the developmental changes in neural circuitry involved in impulse control has significant implications for understanding adolescent behaviors and treating problem and pathological gambling among youths.