Everybody loves winning and gambling is one of those widely available leisure activities giving people a chance to win something. But what starts as a fun activity can easily and unconsciously develop into an unhealthy habit. It can cause serious consequences, including financial and legal problems. It can also damage a person’s relationship with other people and can impact mental and physical health. All these effects of gambling are commonly known, but why do people still gamble?
Humans are built to take risks and gain a positive feeling whenever they are rewarded or when they win. This is why gambling is widespread, as it is an accessible way to take a risk and excite yourself. Like any other activity or chemical that stimulates the brain, gambling can easily become an unhealthy obsession. It creates a lasting impact on the brain that makes it addictive.
Uncertainty of Gambling
The brain has an innate wonder for the unknown, which may also be the reason for various space explorations and the discovery and invention of revolutionary technology. But gambling takes the downsides of this wonder and curiosity. When people gamble, they do not solely do it to win. Sometimes, it’s just for the thrill of it or to just try their luck.
The anticipation of whether they might win releases a chemical called dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feeling excitement and pleasure. Studies showed that dopamine causes reward-seeking behavior. When you find out that doing a specific activity gives you some sort of reward and induces dopamine, you will probably seek to repeat that activity over and over. It creates a vicious “dopamine-seeking reward loop,” which can be difficult to get out of.
The uncertainty of gambling gives a certain type of high. This is why many people chase after gambling activities and find it difficult to stop. Among the risk factors for developing a gambling disorder is the person’s mental health. Many of those who gamble compulsively may have personality disorders, depression, or anxiety. In addition, people dealing with substance abuse or addiction may resort to compulsive gambling as part of their reward-seeking behavior.
If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or gambling disorder, it is important to seek out proper addiction treatment with the help of experts as well as treatment and rehabilitation centers.
Research suggests that genetic factors account for 50 percent of the major contributors to developing gambling disorders — the other 50 percent comes from environmental factors. As gambling has a direct effect on the brain, the way the brain processes this and creates behavior around this can be related to your genetics.
Studies suggest the more serious case of gambling or pathological gambling can be traced at a molecular level. Specific forms of genes known as allele variants were discovered to directly correspond with the chemical messengers associated with pathological gambling. With this, it is suggested that there are people who can be more prone to develop gambling disorders based on their genetics.
In some instances, it manifests to some people in the form of having genetic predispositions for increased reward-seeking behaviors. Similar to how substance abuse and mental disorders can be inherited, so can gambling disorders.
Building Up a Tolerance
When doing something repeatedly, the brain gets used to it and dopamine levels are not as high as in the beginning. There is a certain type of pleasure and excitement when you try or receive something new, but this excitement reduces over time when you receive something repeatedly. This is similar to gambling.
When you start to engage in a certain type of gambling, for example, a simple slot machine, your first try and first few wins will feel amazing, but it will get less thrilling as you do the same thing. You are building a tolerance, which requires you to top your previous activity or experience.
In seeking that kind of intense burst of dopamine, many unconsciously develop a sense of obsession. At some point, others will try finding a new form of gambling, a new type of game, or a new kind of risk that can provide them with the thrill as before. This can just escalate into an addiction.
You Often Don’t Win Anything in Gambling
Many people think that those who gamble do it to win big prizes, but often, this is not the case. People gamble to feel the thrill, to get excited and have some fun. Yes, it can be an enjoyable leisure activity. However, either you win or you lose, it can cause you to want more until it becomes an obsession. You risk a lot and win a little.
In the end, you don’t actually win anything from gambling at all, hence avoiding it is the best way to prevent addiction. If you have signs or risk factors of developing a gambling disorder, avoid any form of gambling, even the smallest ones. Moreover, if you or someone you know is having gambling problems or is struggling with gambling addiction, seek professional help.