Research to date shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward-seeking. Just as substance users require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever-riskier ventures. Likewise, both drug addicts and problem gamblers endure symptoms of withdrawal when separated from the chemical or thrill they desire. A few studies suggest that some people are especially vulnerable to both drug addiction and compulsive gambling because their reward circuitry is inherently under-active ---which may partially explain why they seek big thrills in the first place.
Even more compelling, neuroscientists have learned that drugs and gambling alter many of the same brain circuits in similar ways. These insights come from studies of blood flow and electrical activity in people's brains as they complete various tasks on computers that either mimic casino games or test their impulse control. In some experiments, virtual cards selected from different decks earn or lose a player money; other tasks challenge someone to respond quickly to individual images that flash on a screen but not to react to others.
A 2005 German study using such a card game suggests problem gamblers---like drug addicts---have lost sensitivity to their high: when winning, subjects had lower than typical electrical activity in a critical region of the brain's reward system. In a 2003 study at Yale University and a 2012 study at the University of Amsterdam, pathological gamblers taking tests that measured their impulsivity had unusually low levels of electrical activity in prefrontal brain regions that help people assess risks and suppress instincts. Drug addicts also often have a listless prefrontal cortex.
Further evidence that gambling and drugs change the brain in similar ways surfaced in an amazing group of people: those with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson's disease. Characterized by muscle stiffness and tremors, Parkinson's is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in a section of the midbrain.
Over the decade, researchers noticed that a remarkably high number of Parkinson's patients---between 2 and 7 percent---are compulsive gamblers. Treatment for one disorder most likely contributes to another. To ease symptoms of Parkinson's, some patients take levodopa and other drugs that increase dopamine levels. Researchers think that in some cases, the resulting chemical influx modifies the brain in a way that makes risks and rewards---say, those in a game of poker---more appealing and rash decisions harder to resist.
A new understanding of compulsive gambling has also helped scientists redefine addiction itself. Whereas experts used to think of addiction as dependency on a chemical, they now define it as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions. That experience could be the high of cocaine or heroin or the thrill of doubling one's money at the casino.
"The past idea was that you need to ingest a drug that changes neurochemistry in the brain to get addicted, but we now know that just about anything we do alters the brain,"
says Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist and addiction expert at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"It makes sense that some highly rewarding behaviors, like gambling, can cause dramatic physical changes, too."
Gambling is fun. The rush you get when you see a game of chance playing out while your money is on the line feels amazing. There aren't many activities that can replicate such an exhilarating experience.
However, some people take gambling to the extreme. Gambling is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. When people get addicted to gambling, the joy seems to be removed.
Gambling addiction is a serious issue. People suffering from gambling addiction have to deal with many problems in their daily lives.
If you want to learn more about gambling addiction, you are at the right place. Here is our complete guide on figuring out if you are addicted to gambling and what you can do about it.
Before helping you decide whether you are addicted to gambling, let's define what gambling addiction is. It is necessary to make the distinction. Gambling itself is not a harmful activity. A lot of people take part in gambling activities and have to deal with no problems.
An activity is considered an addiction when the urge to engage in that activity becomes uncontrollable. Another term for gambling addiction is compulsive gambling or gambling disorder, where gambling starts negatively affecting your daily routine.
For example, eating junk food once in a while is not that harmful. When a person eats junk food regularly and can't stop eating despite the harmful effects, it is considered an eating disorder or an addiction.
Identifying gambling addiction can be a daunting task, as those who suffer from it often refuse to acknowledge their addiction. Additionally, some individuals gamble professionally and play games such as blackjack and poker on a regular basis. To help you determine if you have a gambling addiction, we have compiled a list of common signs to watch out for.
You Spend Most of Your Time on Gambling Activities
Some clear signs indicate if you are addicted to gambling. If you spend most of your day engaging in gambling activities, ranging from three to five hours a day, then it is a clear indication of addiction. However, it is worth noting that professional gamblers may also spend this much time gambling as it is their primary source of income. Nonetheless, suppose you are replacing important tasks of your day, such as picking up your kids from school or attending a planned meeting with a relative, with gambling activities. In that case, it is a strong indication that you are addicted to gambling.
You Lie About How Much You Gamble
Gambling addicts often resort to lying about the extent of their gambling activities. They may gamble almost every day while claiming to friends and family that they do it once or twice a week. The reason for this dishonesty is the sense of shame that comes with their addiction. A more significant concern for these individuals is that they begin to deceive themselves. They may come up with irrational justifications for their gambling behavior.
You Gamble with Progressively Higher Amounts to Get the Same Level of Excitement
Like any enjoyable or exhilarating activity, your brain releases dopamine while you are engaged in it. In the same way, when you are engaged in a gambling game, your brain starts to release dopamine.
With gambling addicts, this dopamine release gets smaller and smaller after each gambling session. When this happens, gambling with the same amount of money becomes insufficient to achieve the same level of excitement.
To get the same rush every time, gambling addicts have to spend higher amounts of money every time they engage in gambling. If that's the case with you, you are probably addicted to gambling.
You Get Irritated & Restless if You Cut Down on Gambling
Gambling addiction can be identified by the feeling of restlessness or irritability when one tries to cut down on their gambling activities. These symptoms are called withdrawal symptoms and are typically observed when individuals attempt to reduce their addiction to any activity. If you have been gambling for a while and decide to cut back, it's important to take these symptoms seriously. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms subside after a few weeks of cutting back, but in more severe cases, they can worsen to the point where individuals lose control, causing immense stress for those around them.
You Have Tried Several Times to Cut Back on Gambling But Did Not Succeed
One of the few signs that can confirm to some degree that you are addicted to gambling is if you have tried to eliminate it from your life or at least cut down on it but have achieved nearly zero success. By definition, addiction happens when you can't get rid of a habit.
When it comes to addiction, many people try to quit certain habits. However, the main thing that prevents them from quitting is the withdrawal symptoms, which we have discussed in the earlier section. If you have tried taking a long time off from gambling with no success, you might be addicted to gambling.
You Are Taking Loans to Fund Your Gambling Activities
Another common thing that gambling addicts do is take loans from friends or family to spend on their gambling activities. Getting to this point is one of the worst situations you can be in.
Taking loans and spending them on gambling is not only a problem for you but also for your friend or family that you took the loan from. In the worst cases, you might be in legal trouble.
You Feel Guilty After a Session of Gambling
Another sign that can tell you with high certainty that you are addicted to gambling is that you feel guilty after a gambling session. Why does this happen?
The thing is, gambling addicts might skip necessary tasks, take loans, or use savings to take part in gambling activities. When they end a gambling session, they realize that they will have to deal with all those issues, which is why they feel guilty.
Compulsive gambling can occur as a result of genetic, biological, or environmental factors, and they include:
- Peer pressure from friends
- Mental health disorders
- Drug abuse
- Medications with rare side effects
- Job-related stress
- Relationship issues
- Traumatic conditions
- Problems with money
If not dealt with, gambling addiction can lead to strained or broken relationships. There have been cases where some people commit suicide after losing so much and later realize that they cannot recover whatever they lost. Gambling addiction can also lead to issues with money and bankruptcy, as well as health and legal problems.
If you have concluded that you are addicted to gambling, you probably want to do something about it. Here are all the most effective strategies you can use to deal with your gambling addiction:
- Set Time Limits: Allocate specific time frames for gambling and strictly adhere to them.
- Budget Management: Establish a fixed gambling budget to prevent overspending.
- Self-Exclusion Programs: Utilize self-exclusion options offered by online live casinos to restrict access temporarily.
- Seek Professional Help: Consider counseling or joining support groups for addiction.
- Awareness of Triggers: Identify and avoid situations that provoke the urge to gamble excessively.
- Balance with Other Activities: Engage in alternative hobbies or interests to reduce dependency on gambling.