The most recent contributions of medicine and science during the last few decades have significantly advanced our perception and understanding of addictions.
However, for many people, gambling is seen as a harmless form of entertainment and wonder when this seemingly innocent pastime crosses over to addiction. So it begs the question, is gambling addictive?
It may be complicated to comprehend how an individual can become addicted to a leisure interest such as gambling, in the same way that people become addicted to a physical substance i.e. cocaine, alcohol, nicotine etc.
A clear-cut prescriptive to use is to recognize that people do not in reality become ��addicted’ to the activities or the drugs themselves, but instead become addicted to the effect those activities and drugs have on the brain. Viewing it like this, it becomes clearer to understand how activities such as gambling can become addictive.
Certain activities have the same chemical effect in the brain as it would if someone was taking drugs. When put in simple terms, when someone consumes a drug, these drugs alter in various degrees, the brains natural functioning abilities, causing addictions to transpire in some people. Certain activities can produce a similar outcome, altering the brains conventional chemistry, in a manner that is comparable to drugs, alcohols or other substances.
Dopamine is the most fundamental neurotransmitter that triggers gratifying and pleasurable feelings making us all unfortunately vulnerable to addictions. The brain has a unique reward structure that makes people want to constantly repeat behaviors and actions that result in a pleasurable release of Dopamine. The levels of dopamine in the brain increases from activities such as eating, sex and gambling in the same way that dopamine levels increase from using nicotine or cocaine.
So when exactly do healthy or innocent activities like sex, eating and gambling become an addiction?
A basic way to distinguish between additions and regular gratifying activities is to weight it against the definition of additions. If an individual continues to steadily engage in a gratifying activity, i.e. gambling, despite the fact that the negative consequences’ (financial troubles, missing work, losing their home) greatly overshadow the benefits (winning infrequently), this can be depicted as an activity addiction. If a person repeatedly performs a gratifying activity that posses a compulsive trait, this can be depicted as an activity addiction.
In gambling addicts, their now distorted brain functions’ have an increased level of dopamine, accounting for the dramatic change in two particular characteristics; compulsivity and impulsivity, making gambling addiction more difficult to cease.
The pleasures, regardless of the specific form of these activities are short-lived gratifications, for instance, prize winning on a slot machine. The chase for this that pleasure feeling begins again as temporary pleasure diminishes; this pattern is similarly seen in alcohol and drug addictions.
Like all addictions, there is not one single root cause of gambling addiction. Is gambling addictive? In truth, there are multiple factors such as physiological, biological, and socio-cultural aspects combined in various degrees that apply.