Healthy Living

How Does The Brain Get Addicted To Gambling?

Reza Shjaei
Reza Shjaei Erik Buraas / Studio B13

Gambling and real money games have been around for thousands of years. However, after online casinos and online gambling in general started to take over in the 1990’s, problem gambling has also increased. Around the world, people get addicted to online gaming constantly. Fortunately, there are many organizations that help people with gambling addiction and there is a lot of information and research available about the subject.

In fact, the understanding of gambling addiction has improved in the past years. Before, pathological gambling was defined to be more of compulsion than an addiction - or in other words, rather a need to relieve anxiety than a craving for pleasure. For decades, gambling addiction was not defined as addiction at all, but it was rather classified as an impulse control disorder. Since then, the opinions and research concluded around the world has changed the view on this and today, problem gambling is defined as addiction when a player simply cannot stop playing.

Coming up with more effective treatment for gambling addiction is increasingly necessary, because gambling is more accessible than ever, resulting in more and more people getting addicted to gambling. The good news is, however, that it can be overcome and many organizations and sites offer help for people who need it.

What happens in the brain of a person who is addicted to gambling?

Numerous studies in psychology, neuroscience, and genetics has proven that gambling and drug addiction are, in fact, a lot more similar than previously thought. As addiction develops in the brain, the brain changes. There are series of circuits known as the reward system in the middle of our cranium, and it links various brain regions that are involved in memory, movement, motivation, and pleasure.

As we practice activities that keep us alive, such as eating, neurons in our brain burst out dopamine. It gives us a wave of satisfaction, which in return helps us make a habit of eating, for instance.

These brain regions can be stimulated by cocaine, amphetamine, or other drugs, and it disperses up to 10 times more dopamine in our brain than usual. As continuous use of these drugs robs their power of the euphoria they offer to the addicted subject, the subject builds tolerance to the drug. This means that in order to get the feeling of satisfaction, the person needs more and more of the drug.

Moreover, some studies and research have shown that pathological and problem gamblers share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity as drug addicts do. Whereas drug addicts need more of the drug they are addicted to, gambling addicts need to pursue even riskier ventures to receive the so much craved burst of dopamine.

What is interesting is that neuroscientists have found that gambling and drugs alter many of the same brain circuits. In fact, a German study done in 2005 showed that problem gamblers lose their sensitivity to the high they get from winning. This is why gambling addicts often bet more money, bet more often, or bet in riskier events than other gamblers.

As compulsive gambling has become better understood, it has helped scientists to redefine the addiction and its reasons. Scientists used to think that addicts are dependent on the chemical, but now they believe that addicts are, in fact, chasing the high they get from the rewarding experience - oftentimes, despite the serious repercussions.

Many organizations help gambling addicts

As online gambling has become increasingly popular, the number of gambling addicts has also increased. However, online gaming is here to stay and it is not going anywhere. This multibillion dollar industry has, however, taken certain steps to ensure the safety of gamblers.

Reza Shojaei, the owner of the biggest casino affiliate sites CasinoTopp.net and CasinoTop.com, is familiar with the problem that touches many people around the world.

  • We recommend trustworthy casinos to our readers and whilst doing so, we also provide resources for gambling addicts. In fact, anyone who thinks they might have a gambling problem, they can get in touch with us and we will direct them to organizations that can help, Shojaei explains.

All reliable and trustworthy online casinos themselves have to do the same. They are all required to provide their players with resources and help to overcome gambling addiction. In fact, online casinos even offer a chance for players to self-ban themselves from playing at a certain casino and its sister casinos.

This helps the gambling addicts to take the right steps. Also, free resources provided by different organizations, such as gamblers anonymous, will help gambling addicts to overcome their addiction and to play responsibly, or even quit gambling completely.

  • At Value Marketing, we take gambling addiction very seriously. We always promote responsible gaming and help our readers in any way possible to make sure that they play within their limits, money-wise and otherwise, Shojaei stresses.

Medication and therapy can help

Redefining gambling problem as an addiction instead of a compulsive habit is much more than just semantics. In fact, scientists and therapists have already found out that problem gamblers respond better to medication and therapy rather than strategies that have been used for taming compulsions. They have found that some antidepressants can alleviate the symptoms of impulse control disorders, while they have never worked for gambling addicts, really. Interestingly, certain medications that have been used to treat substance addictions (such as drug or alcohol abuse) have worked for taming pathological gambling, too. The idea is to reduce the craving in the brain, which ultimately reduces the need to gamble.

Another interesting form of treatment is cognitive behavior therapy, that can help people to resist unwanted habits or thoughts. For instance, many gambling addicts have irrational beliefs (such as superstitions) that they will learn to control with this form of therapy.

The biggest issue according to some researchers is, though, that about 80% of gambling addicts never seek treatment. And worse of all, about 75% of those who do seek help, end up back in the casinos eventually. This is why preventing gambling addiction and catching a possibility for it as early as possible is paramount.

Gambling is entertainment

At the end of the day, gambling is meant to be entertainment. It is not meant to be done in order to make money or to get out of debt. Playing casino games is always a form of entertainment and all losses should be calculated simply as a price you pay for that entertainment, such as a price of a movie ticket.

While many gamblers are able to keep their gambling in control and they have a set budget they can easily stay within, some people get addicted to gambling and there is really no way to know who might do so.

The most important thing for anyone who wants to do gambling is to set certain boundaries, both time and budget-wise. You should never play with money you cannot afford to lose. Also, you should set a certain time-frame for gambling, either per day, per week, or per month, and never exceed said frame.

In fact, setting tight boundaries for yourself even when you think you might not get addicted can help you to keep gaming entertaining.

How to recognize a gambling addict

Gambling addiction can start very noticeably. Gaming might be fun at first, but slowly it turns into something more serious. Below, we have compiled some symptoms and behaviors you should keep an eye on either for yourself or for someone close to you.

According to Mayo Clinic, the following behaviors and symptoms may be a sign of problematic gambling:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning how to get more gambling money
  • Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same thrill
  • Trying to control, cut back or stop gambling, without success
  • Feeling restless or irritable when you try to cut down on gambling
  • Gambling to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Trying to get back lost money by gambling more (chasing losses)
  • Lying to family members or others to hide the extent of your gambling
  • Jeopardizing or losing important relationships, a job, or school or work opportunities because of gambling
  • Resorting to theft or fraud to get gambling money
  • Asking others to bail you out of financial trouble because you gambled money away

If you think that you or someone close to you might have a gambling problem, you should seek help immediately. The faster you get help, the faster the problem can be overcome. Though it may be difficult, you should consider talking to your family or friends about it: after all, having a good support system around you is very important.

Combating a gambling problem alone is not easy, which is why certain organizations and support groups can be fantastic places to start. They can provide you with a network of people who share the same issues and who can help you.

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