How the brain gets addicted to gambling


While substance abuse is quite straightforward by a lot of people, being dependent on a task such as for instance gambling raises a lot of questions. Not every one who gambles becomes addicted to it, which can be a thing that made it a whole lot harder to know. Numerous studies have been conducted and research has been made to better understand why issue. Now boffins know the mind gets addicted to gambling and how the gamblers could be helped.

What makes gambling addictive

One may think it is easy to become addicted to making easy money via gambling but you, the majority of the times gamblers don’t even win. So just why do they keep on playing?

Excessive gambling can dramatically alterate how a brain sends chemical messages and it involves the reward system. This technique makes gambling seem like the best thing to the player even if they're losing. It bypasses rational thinking and logic, and so they indulge in this activity without realizing then and there simply how much harm they truly are, actually , doing to themselves.

The experience of gambling triggers a variety of strong emotions the player will get dependent on, much like in the case of substance addiction.

What happens in the brain of a gambler

The reward system of the mind, also called the ventral striatum, is an essential part of understanding this and any other addiction. This really is some circuits attached to various regions of the mind, notably the memory, motivation and pleasure centres.

Whenever we engage in enjoyable activities such as for example eating our favourite food, finding a compliment, having intercourse, or winning a game title, our brain sends signals via neurotransmitters. The main neurotransmitter in the reward system is dopamine and when enough of it really is released in the brain, we experience pleasure, euphoria, and we feel motivated to achieve that activity again.

A similar thing happens when drugs are taken. They raise the dopamine that is released in the reward system by up to 10 times a lot more than natural rewarding experiences, which creases the high. Similarly to how substance addicts develop tolerance and need more of the substance to truly have the same high, research done in Germany in 2005 suggests that problem gamblers also lose sensitivity to the high they get from winning. This makes them bet more often, higher levels of money, or make riskier bets to feel the same way because they used to.

The reward system is also attached to the prefrontal cortex via neural pathways that weaken when the brain is flooded with dopamine for extended periods of time. The prefrontal cortex is located above and behind the eyes and helps people tame impulses. When these pathways are weakened, the gambler has an increasingly hard time controlling their impulse to gamble.

That is supported by a 2003 study at the Yale Academy and one conducted in 2012 at the Academy of Amsterdam. These show that pathological gamblers have unusually low quantities of electrical activity in the prefrontal brain regions responsible with risk assessment and instincts suppression.

The psychological factors that make people keep on gambling

Besides neurochemistry, psychology also plays a big role in gambling addiction. There are five factors that push at-risk gamblers to continue playing to the point where they become addicted:

  1. Gambler’s fallacy – most gamblers genuinely believe that with every loss, the chances of winning increase. This is untrue as each turn is a new event with the same winning chances whilst the previous one;
  2. Partial reinforcement – this identifies when an action or activity doesn't reward or result in a negative outcome 100% of times. Gamblers think they have a possibility of ranging from 0% and 100% to win and they are sure that losses certainly are a part of the process which in the course of time contributes to a win. This increases expectation and motivates them to keep gambling;
  3. Illusion of control – many players who prefer table games frequently deal with this dilemma. They believe they've some type of influence over their winning chance, including the color they pick for a Roulette bet or the mix of cards they keep in their hand. Nevertheless , the key driving force of any casino game is luck, which cannot be controlled;
  4. Availability heuristic – this occurs when gamblers overestimate their winning chances because they either saw another person win big or they recall their last big win. In reality, this doesn't affect by any means a player’s chance of winning, nevertheless they are confident it does;
  5. Loss aversion – studies demonstrate that folks experience a stronger emotional reaction to losses than they do to winnings of the same value. Which means that losing C$20 causes an even more prominent reaction than winning C$20. Consequently , many gamblers attempt to chase their losses which sooner or later leads to even more losses.

Why only some people become addicted

There are many people who enjoy playing a game of chance occasionally because they like the small rush of excitement that originates from the reward element versus the chance. Of course, if they do not win, it still remains a pleasing social activity. But this really is for the folks who keep this activity as a leisure one and don't exaggerate.

One of the things that make gambling addictive is the frequency with which it really is done. Somebody who gambles every so often for fun with friends should be safe, in most cases. Meanwhile, somebody who partcipates in this activity every day will eventually develop an addiction.

However, some people are genetically prone to gambling addiction. The two main genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward-seeking behaviours are:

  1. A less active prefrontal cortex;
  2. An underactive brain reward system.

Whilst the activity in the prefrontal cortex may be slowed down by gambling itself, many people have just been born in this manner. Given its function which we've discussed above, these individuals are prone to make impulse decisions, making them much more likely to gamble excessively.

People who are born with an underactive brain reward system will have difficulty experiencing euphoria or pleasure from average experiences. They resort to activities giving them more dopamine in order to feel a satisfactory amount of euphoria. These activities can sometimes include taking drugs or compulsively gambling.

Conclusions and references

Gambling addiction works in many ways just as substance addiction and both genetic predispositions and the individual’s own choices cause this severe problem. Scientists continue to be researching and trying to higher know the way the mind works when it comes to addictions and enhance the treatment and therapies recommended in these days. There is lots of progress in this region, but, regrettably, about 80% of gambling addicts never seek treatment. Worse is that 75% of the who do seek help return to gambling. Prevention is utterly essential and gambling responsibly can help avoid this very serious issue.

The following references have been used in this article:

  • How Does The Brain Get Addicted To Gambling?
  • Why is Gambling Addictive? Understanding the Science
  • Gambling Addiction and the Brain
  • Gambling: Why is it so addictive?
  • Problem Gambling: Why do some people become addicted?
  • Pathological Choice: The Neuroscience of Gambling and Gambling Addiction

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