Addictiveness of gambling
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With the exception of Hawaii and Utah, every state allows at least some significant form of gambling, and betting is only as far away as your phone, due to a rapid increase in online gambling. But what can the constant allure of casinos and betting do to the brain?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) lists problem gambling in the same section as alcoholism, and since 2010 has classified it as an official addiction. It is estimated that over 2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, but over 80-percent of them never seek treatment. What causes this addiction, and why is it so hard to fight?
Gambling releases the same chemical—dopamine—as most other addictive drugs, giving a wave of satisfaction and pleasure. While dopamine alone can’t hurt you—eating chocolate also releases small amounts of the chemical—the large amounts released by addictive behaviors cause people to form habits around these actions. What most pathological gamblers don’t realize, however, is that these short boosts of dopamine can damage your brain in the long term.
The University of Amsterdam and Yale University both conducted studies that found pathological gamblers have much less electrical activity in the prefrontal region of their brain, which assesses risks and suppresses instincts. A German study also found that gamblers develop tolerances to their “highs,” and can develop significant withdrawal symptoms if they stop gambling for even a short period. And MIT discovered something that can make gambling even more financially hazardous: gamblers will get more of a high from a near miss, like two of the three cherries on a slot machine than they will actually get from winning. They can get high on losing money.
Yet many do not see gambling as dangerous. The APA only classified it as a full-fledged addiction recently, and XX-percent of LT students don’t see it as a serious psychological issue. This can lead to problems when people seek help, especially when they are fighting a serious addiction.
Fortunately, people are beginning to recognize problem gambling as a more serious issue, and there are many different resources available for help. Programs such as Gamblers Anonymous (309-678-9268) focus on a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, and public opinion is turning in support of regulations to help addicted gamblers. Hopefully, these can eventually make a difference in an addict’s life.