Why is Gambling Addictive? Understanding the Science
Lots of people find pleasure in the odd flutter at the race track. It’s not just the winning but the taking part that plays a bit part in the thrill and excitement. Unfortunately, like with many experiences that provide pleasure such as, eating, shopping and drinking alcohol, over doing it can turn into dependence.
The brains reward system can become accustomed to the frequent experience and it can take more and more to get the feeling of pleasure you are seeking. As a result the brain gets rewired and can take many weeks or months to normalise the negative impact.
When someone gets to this stage with gambling it has become an addiction that is serious for your health, wallet, family and life in general. It was only in 2013 that the substance-related and addictive disorder section of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was updated. Compulsive gambling was thought to be a compulsion but is now known to be an addiction that is similar to substance addiction.
What is it that Makes Gambling Addictive?
Compulsive gambling can make the brain change the way it sends chemical messages and coupled with the fact that a lot of gamblers have hereditary of biological issues make them prime candidates for addiction.
How Does the Brain Change?
The brain has a reward system that is made up of connections to various parts of it, such as pleasure and motivation centres. The experience of getting a compliment, achieving a task, winning a game and having sex for example will make the brain send signals through neurotransmitters which send chemical messages that will stimulate or stop neurons in the brain.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter for the reward system and when enough of it gets into our system from an enjoyable activity we feel pleasure and want to keep doing what we are doing. When taking drugs the high they create is massive as the dopamine released can be up to ten times more than the normal amount from a natural high. This is the same with gambling and is why it appeals to people .
The majority of people can just walk away after playing cards or slot machines as they have had a great time. Those who can’t are those who could become problem gamblers. For some it is not just the changes in brain waves but there are other problems that make things more difficult. Such as:
Both problem gamblers and drug addicts have been shown, through research, which they have genetic predisposing for thrill seeking activities and are impulsive:
- Less active reward system in the brain
- Lower activation of the prefrontal cortex
A less active reward system is when the person gets the same euphoria from normal rewarding activities as the average person. They have more of an attraction to undertake reward stimulating pastimes than usual like taking drugs or gambling.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that makes decisions, controls desires and cognitive control. Researchers found that compulsive gamblers and drug abusers prefrontal cortex had less activation than the average person.