Gambling is all about having fun and thrill for that next big win, surely with losing or winning every now and then. For some of us, gambling is a thrill that keeps us going, but for some it can be devastating – it can turn into something beyond just entertainment. Gambling can seriously interfere with the quality of life and lead to serious financial and other problems.
Problem gamblers resemble drug addicts, not only in their behaviour, but also in their brains. This has led to a new understanding of what happens inside the brain of a problem gambler. What used to be thought of as dependency on a chemical is now being defined as the repeated pursuit of a rewarding experience in spite of serious rebound. That experience could be the high from a drug or the high of winning a bet, because behaviours can be addictive, too.
Gambling is more than just a lack of self-control, its severe addiction. And gambling disorders are an addiction in the truest sense. The rationale for gambling disorder as an addiction is that the growing scientific literature on problem gambling reveals common elements with substance use disorders.
People with serious gambling disorders are a lot like drug addicts in how they act or behave. Often lying to their friends and family, experiencing major decline in their physical and mental health, and even withdrawals are all too familiar to those suffering with the gambling addiction.
Gambling activates the brains reward system in just the same way that a drug does. The parts of the brain that respond to the prospects of winning and losing money while gambling are the same as those that appear to respond to cocaine and morphine. Gambling produces a rush in a person’s mind and body, this rush is caused by dopamine being released by the brain. Some people are especially vulnerable to both drug addictions and compulsive gambling because their reward circuitry is inherently underactive.
The areas of the brain that is responsible for suppressing impulses become weak in problem gamblers. Tests have shown that dopamine levels are decreased in people with a gambling disorder. Researchers have even determined that problem gamblers are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, which is a condition caused by dopamine malfunction.
For a gambling addict, his or her brain is predisposed to developing a serious problem. This is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors. When people with gambling disorder watch gambling videos or participate in simulated gambling while their brains are being scanned, scientists can see changes in blood flow in specific brain areas, indicating which areas are more active.
At Hope Trust, problem gambling involves counselling, step-based programs, self-help, peer-support, CBT, motivational interviewing or a combination of these. Hope Trust devises individual treatment strategies for an individual’s unique recovery process.