Psychology of Gambling and Addiction
Gambling is a favorite leisure activity for many people across the world. It is a costly form of entertainment that can yield returns if you are lucky, but it can become pathological if you do not take caution. Gambling becomes a problem when it begins to affect the other aspects of your life leading to grave consequences. Gambling addiction is on the rise and consequently, casinos, regulatory bodies, and governments have initiated efforts to mitigate it.
This rise could be a result of the increased access to these games. Most jurisdictions across the globe have legalized it and even the strictest and most conservative countries are slowly easing their restrictions on it. The emergence of online casinos has also tremendously improved the accessibility to casino games. People can access their favorite slots and casino games from the comfort of their homes and play on their PCs, smartphones, and tablets. This offers a perfect solution for gamers who dread the stigma associated with entering a land-based casino.
Gambling addiction has been a contentious issue among psychiatrists who earlier on termed it as a compulsion and not an addiction. A compulsion, by definition, is a behavior aimed at relieving stress and anxiety and not craving for high pleasure. It was later branded as an impulse control disorder before finally being referred to as an addiction. The contention was probably because addiction is often associated with a substance and not an activity like gambling.
However, recent studies have shown that the mechanisms are the same. What is the psychology behind it? The brain has circuits that are called the reward system. They link different regions that are associated with motivation and pleasure. This system fires up when we carry out exciting activities leading to the release of dopamine, which makes us feel good and satisfied.
However, when an exciting activity like gambling becomes habitual, the dopamine becomes too much in the brain thus leading to lower production and reduced sensitivity to it. This results in the phenomenon referred to as tolerance. This is where an individual requires more of the addictive substance to achieve the same amount of pleasure. For instance, a gambler may need to gamble more money to get the thrill and excitement associated with it.
Another common phenomenon is withdrawal. It is where an addict gets physical signs and symptoms because of staying away from what they are addicted to. The most common symptoms include tremors, seizures, headaches, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and restlessness. This is because the normal neural pathways in the reward system weaken with time leading to reduced dopamine production. Hence, the lack of their addicting substance results in low dopamine leading to these symptoms.
The psychology of gambling addiction results from this pathway. This understanding has even shifted the general definition of an addiction. Initially, scientists thought that the addicting drugs replaced or altered the neurotransmitters in the pathway. However, it can now be referred to as the need to continuously pursue a rewarding experience despite the negative consequences. With this explanation, there is no contention that gambling addiction is an addiction like any other.
How to Deal with Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction has become rampant in recent times, thus, necessitating the implementation of measures to tackle it. Casinos have collaborated with the government and other stakeholders to curb this problem. The first step of dealing with this is recognizing that you are suffering from it. The early signs include the loss of control of your gambling urges. You are unable to keep away from these games even when you are supposed to be working, completing an assignment, or being with your family. Another classic sign is where you gamble more money than you had budgeted for.
The dire consequences of the above are usually the next signs. Your gambling habits will put a strain on your relationships, you will start neglecting your responsibilities, and begin to make poor financial decisions. At this point, the problem is usually noticeable to the individual as well as the closest people to them. In extreme cases, the individual may engage in theft or embezzlement to finance the vice, end up with depression, or lose their jobs.
Gambling addiction is usually treated using addiction medicines that are used in other types of addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has also been shown to be effective. However, it is unfortunate that most addicts do not seek treatment, and those who do tend to relapse.
Prevention Is Better Than The Cure
The most effective way of dealing with gambling addiction is preventing or dealing with it early. Some casinos in various parts of the world have trained their staff to look out for pathological gamblers. They monitor and flag cases of people who spend more and more time and money. If flagged, the gambler can be given the option of banning themselves from the casino. They also avail the contacts of Gamblers Anonymous nearby. These are support groups that allow gambling addicts to meet other recovering addicts who will help them in their journey to recovery.
The online casino realm has also taken crucial steps in promoting responsible gambling. First, they prohibit underage persons from registering and gambling. Many casinos have measures that can help gamers to control their gambling. The most common features include deposit limits, time limits, and self-exclusion.
The deposit limits control of how much an individual can spend in a casino. The casino prevents one from depositing more cash once the limit is reached. The time limit, on the other hand, prevents someone from gambling for more than the stipulated hours in a day. Self-exclusion is a case where an individual bans himself or herself from the casino for a defined amount of time. However, all these measures originate from the sufferer so it is important to recognize the early signs of gambling addiction.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem that can lead to dire consequences if it is left unresolved. Its psychology is related to the reward system just like other types of addiction. You should recognize the early signs of addiction to quickly alleviate it before it becomes a huge problem. Gambling is fun only when practiced responsibly.
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