Brief History of Gambling Addiction
In the 1980s, pathological gambling was considered as an impulse control disorder like kleptomania or pyromania. Therapists defined it as a need or urge, rather than as a full addiction. At that time, doctors assumed that this kind of behavior is motivated primarily by the necessity to reduce anxiety and not by the desire for satisfaction.
It was only in 2003 when pathological gambling was included among addictions. Over recent years, great progress has been shown in the understanding of how gambling works. As a result, psychiatrists have had to completely rethink and change the treatment for gambling.
What Does Gambling Do to the Brain?
A large number of recent psychology, neuroscience and genetics studies have shown that gambling addiction is similar to drug addiction. At least up to the point that the chemical dopamine is involved.
Dopamine Is the One to Blame
Dopamine functions as a transmitter of electrical impulses between nerve cells. The most important function of dopamine is in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which runs from the midbrain to the frontal cortex. This pathway plays a crucial role in forming motivation, emotions and, in particular, in activation of the rewards center in the brain. This center produces pleasant feelings in response to various activities or events. If you use a drug such as cocaine or other amphetamines, the rewards center produces 10 times more Dopamine than usual.
Addictive substances keep our brain constantly flooded with Dopamine. But the problem is that our brain slowly gets used to such a state. And as a result, there is a reduced production of Dopamine and the addicted person needs to increase the dose to reach a state of euphoria. In severe addiction, there are withdrawal symptoms, such as decreased physical sensation, sleep deprivation or an uncontrollable tremor.
Common Signs of Drug Addiction
Research has shown that gambling and drug addiction share a large number of genetic predispositions in the sphere of reward. In other words, just like an addict needs a bigger dose, a gambler must experience higher risk to achieve the same feeling of satisfaction. And also when the gambler is separated from the source of excitement, he experiences the same withdrawal symptoms.
Some studies also indicate that many people have increased vulnerability to addictive behavior. Their brain circuit system in the reward center is less active and thus the effect of these stimulants is multiplied.
The similarity with addictive substances has also been confirmed in a study by German scientists who worked on identifying gambling issues. As with drugs, when it comes to satisfaction, electrical activity was more decreased in the crucial areas of the reward system than it should be. Low values were measured mainly in the frontal area of the brain, which predominantly assists in the evaluation of danger and suppression of instincts. In drug addiction, this part of the brain is almost inactive.
Gambling Has Helped Define Addiction
New findings on notorious gamblers have helped to define the very conception of addiction. Timothy Fong, a well-known psychiatrist and expert at the University of California, said: “Previously, we worked with the idea that, in order to be a drug addict, you must take some drug to change the neurochemistry of the brain. But now we know that even some activity can change everything. ”
The new definition of pathological gambling as an addiction was not just a change in semantics. Therapists soon realized that gamblers respond much better to the same therapy used for drug addicts, rather than to strategies to suppress the urge, as is the case e.g. in kleptomania.
Other studies also have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments. In this case, therapists are focused on current experience and behavior. The main goal is to change the belief in gamblers’ fallacies, like Hot Hand, the illusion of control and other popular gambling myths.
How Is Gambling Addiction Different?
On the other hand, we cannot lump risk and drug consumption together. Gambling is primarily intended for amusement, excitement and perhaps for relief from day to day stress. And most players do it for these reasons.
For example, research shows that four out of five Americans admitted that they have at least once in their lifetime tried some form of gambling. It is essential to find the borderline between entertainment and addiction and to adhere to the basic rules for safe gambling, such as correct money management.
Gambling Addiction Test
If you are experiencing symptoms of addiction, it is important to seek professional help. You can also try gambling addiction test: