While for many, gambling is an occasional, harmless activity for a bit of fun and a thrill, for others, gambling becomes addictive and irresistible. The risk and reward of gambling give the person a surge of excitement, but as with many experiences (or even substances) that give us a ‘feel-good factor’, too much can turn into dependence.
Obsessive gambling used to be seen as compulsion, but it is now regarded as an addiction similar to that of substance addiction.
What are the causes of gambling addiction?
Not everyone who has an occasional flutter or enjoys betting becomes addicted to gambling, so what are the causes of gambling addiction?
As with any addiction, the causes of gambling addiction are varied, but what’s important to note is that many link and feed from one another. Let’s take a look at some of the more common sources and risk factors associated with gambling addiction.
- How your brain responds to reward and pleasure
- Financial issues
- Stressful life situations
- Filling a void in their life
- Seeking thrills
- Mental health issues
- Problems with alcohol
- Ease of use and accessibility to gambling apps and sites
- Outside influence from a loved one
- Personality traits
Predisposition – Many people who are addicted to gambling, or drugs, have been found to have a genetic predisposition to be impulsive and display reward-seeking behaviours. This is due to two main reasons of an underactive prefrontal cortex and an underactive brain reward system.
Therefore, people with an underactive brain reward system don’t experience as much pleasure from natural experiences and seek activities which will create higher reward levels. This means once they have found it, they will keep seeking that high. Also people with an underactive prefrontal cortex will have more difficulty controlling their impulses and thinking about long-term repercussions of their impulsive actions.
Dopamine – As previously mentioned, gambling problems are now viewed as addictions akin to drug and alcohol addictions. This is due to dopamine, which is the main neurotransmitter in the reward system of the brain.
When a sufficient level of dopamine is released, we experience feelings of euphoria and taking drugs increases dopamine – this also happens when people gamble. But our brains build a tolerance to this stimulation, making the reward system less efficient. The long-term functionality of the brain has been altered, and the now-addicted gambler won’t ever be able to replicate the dopamine high they initially experienced from gambling.
A desperation for money, for whatever situation the sufferer has found themselves in, can trigger an addiction to gambling. Clearly, though this can be connected to other addictions if finances are being used to obtain alcohol or drugs, making the situation far more complicated.
This will create a vicious cycle that the gambling addict will often be able to see no way out of. Feeling desperate financially will create a cycle of desperation in attempting to get back what they have lost.
There are many causes of stress, whether that be relationship issues, trouble at work or financial worries, gambling could create short-term relief. Ironically, this will only increase stress long-term because further money problems and stress will be created again, feeding into this vicious cycle.
Filling a gap
Many people with a gambling addiction will have begun by trying to fill a void in their life. For instance, this could manifest itself in passing the time due to being lonely and/or having lots of spare time to play with.
This ties in with the genetic predisposition of an underactive brain reward system, but gambling is no-doubt a thrill for many people. When addiction takes over, the need for the thrill high becomes addictive, no matter the consequences for the sufferer.
Mental health disorders
Mental health problems are common in people who have gambling addictions. Gambling addicts are twice as likely to suffer from depression. Again, this could well tie in with the sufferer seeking a dopamine high.
This issue works both ways as people with gambling addictions present mental health symptoms often as a result of their addiction. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, extreme emotions and mood swings are all symptomatic of a gambling addiction.
Almost half of gambling addicts have problems with alcohol. Gambling and drinking alcohol produce similar reactions on the brain – therefore someone with an addiction to one of these are more likely to develop a dependence on the other, too.
Interestingly, gambling addiction is more likely in men than in women. However, in recent years, patterns of gambling have started to become similar between men and women.
We’ve all seen the adverts, the apps, websites and shops encouraging and facilitating gambling. The act of gambling is highly accessible, convenient and easy to perform – meaning if you have an inclination to gamble, resisting the urge will be difficult.
Outside influence from a loved one
If a parent, partner, close friend or family member have a problem with gambling, there is a higher chance that you will, as well.
Certain types of medication
A rare side-effect of medication for Parkinson’s or restless leg syndrome is compulsive behaviour, including gambling.
Personality traits such as competitiveness, restlessness or even if getting bored easily, could mean someone is more prone to developing an addiction to gambling.
Due to the possibility of these causes and factors combining, there is a strong chance that someone with a gambling problem could experience a rapid downward spiral.
As with other forms of addiction, it is difficult for the sufferer to identify that they have a problem due to denial. Again, as with other types of addiction, a person with a gambling addiction will also attempt to hide the problem from loved ones.
However, if you read our signs and symptoms and feel you or a loved one may have a gambling problem then we can offer a helping hand. Get in touch with our expert team here at Port of Call on 08000029010