Are you a compulsive gambler? Do you know someone who is addicted to gambling? Have you ever wondered why gambling can be as addictive as taking narcotics? Well, there is a short answer and there is a long answer. The short answer is that gambling is pleasant. To get the long answer, you have to keep reading so that you can find out what exactly makes gambling pleasant.
Gambling For The Rush of Excitement
Each time you gamble, there is a risk versus reward factor because gambling is a game of chance. Irrespective of what you are betting on, you’ll always feel a rush of excitement when your odds hang in the balance. This is why you feel good when you win and look forward to trying again when you lose. Gambling occasionally isn’t a problem just like drinking occasional or engaging in other social activities that makes you feel good. However, when you start gambling frequently, you will be at risk of becoming mentally dependent.
When you’re mentally dependent on gambling, your brain starts yearning for it because it triggers your reward system. The more you gamble, the more addicted you will become as it restructures your mental structure. You will gamble with all you have and even go into debt gambling because you can’t help yourself and you always feel like things will get better. You just can’t get up and decide to stop. You’ll need to recondition your brain over time if you’re to break the chain of gambling addiction.
You might think that people keep gambling because they love money but this isn’t always the case. It’s true that the love of money might be part of the reason why a person starts gambling in the first place but with time, things become more complicated. As your brain is being altered, the way it sends chemical messages changes dramatically. In fact, just like other forms of substance abuse, people who gamble have a psychological and disposition to gambling addiction. This means that while others can gamble occasionally and get away with it, others can’t. Those who are more prone to gambling addiction can quickly fall into a downward spiral and would need psychological help to recover.
Understanding The Brain Of A Gambling Addict
Now, it’s time to get into details of how the brain of an addicted gambler works whenever they gamble or engage in other fun activities. Everyone’s brain has pleasure centers that are connected by some ‘circuits’ called the reward system. Each time you participate in rewarding activity, chemical signals are transported through neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters can either stimulate the neurons allowing you to enjoy the experience. Some activities that count as rewarding are sex, drinking, winning a game, or anything you naturally enjoy.
The primary neurotransmitter that makes an activity pleasurable is dopamine. The more dopamine your brain releases, the more excitement and satisfaction you will get from the experience. When you enjoy something a lot, you’ll want to do it again and again. Who doesn’t want to experience euphoria every day? This is how everyone’s brain works.
Drugs and excessive alcohol change the game in the reward system by allowing the brain to release ten times more dopamine than it will release on a normal day. This is what makes people intoxicated. This same thing happens when a person indulges in gambling. However, the case isn’t the same for everyone. There are some people with underactive brain reward systems who are more prone to gambling addiction than others. What does this mean?
When the prefrontal cortex of an individual’s brain is stimulated, the person feels the pleasure that is accompanied by the release of dopamine. However, some people are born with a prefrontal cortex that is underactive. So, they tend to crave activities that would provide extra stimulation to the brain before they can feel euphoria like others. If these people start gambling or using any substance, stopping is going to be difficult hence the addiction. They rarely think about the long term impact of their actions as long as they enjoy satisfaction while they are gambling. These gamblers are by nature impulsive.
Increasing The Stakes For More Reward And More Euphoria
The thing with gambling is that you’re going to build resistance eventually. Your brain will build tolerance for that level of euphoria. The only way to gain satisfaction is to increase the stakes the same way an alcoholic will need to increase the substance from time to time. A gamble can increase the stakes either by wagering more money or betting on less likely odds. The higher the risk, the higher the reward and the more significant the satisfaction. Your brain will keep rebooting and strengthening its defensive reaction making the existing reward system inefficient.
Keep in mind that playing a game of luck once in a while isn’t enough to force your brain to build a tolerance. You will need to do it over and over again before your brain starts to change the configuration. Gambling repeatedly will lead to excessive stimulation of the frontal cortex and subsequently kick starts the addiction. It’s also important to note that after the addiction has taken roots, a lack of dopamine secretion will lead to withdrawal symptoms. These include headaches, depression and other unpleasant effects. The brain will keep craving for the euphoria and the gambler will do whatever it takes to stop the negative symptoms. Just like someone who is addicted to a substance will do anything to get that substance, a gambling addict will do anything to place a bet.
How To Fix Your Gambling Problem
The thing with gambling addiction is that it starts slowly and creeps in until you are eventually seriously addicted. So, the first step to fixing the problem is identifying it. If you can’t admit that you have a problem, you’ll never be able to break free. You should know that you have a gambling problem if you feel depressed whenever you can’t gamble, gamble with money that you set aside for more important things, gamble wherever you want to feel high, keep placing bets even when you’re on a losing streak.
After identifying that you have a gambling problem, you need to get help. If you are not experiencing the symptoms of addiction for long, you may be able to break the addiction without seeking professional help. However, you should talk to a trusted family member or friend for the same of accountability. Also, make sure that you limit your association with people who enable you and stop going to places that remind you of gambling. The more you avoid temptation, the easier it will be to break the addiction.
As stated above, addiction allows you to satisfy your need for dopamine. Gambling isn’t the only thing that can cause the secretion of dopamine. So, think of something fun and healthy to do during the time that you would have spent gambling. Dopamine is the reason why gambling is pleasant. However, make sure you find a balance to avoid switching one addiction for the other. If you try all the tips above and you still can’t stop compulsive gambling, you need to seek professional help.
In conclusion, gambling is pleasant because it releases the feel good hormones in your brain 10 times more than other fun activities. While everyone can gamble, some people have a genetic disposition to gambling and this can make them addicts. The good news is that gambling, just like every other addiction is curable. Don’t hesitate seeking for help if you think you might be addicted. A good starting point is National Council on Problem Gambling
Feeling that you don’t have a gambling issue and want to know more about why gambling is so pleasant? Read how much can you win in a casino?