How Gambling Addiction Affects Your Brain

How Gambling Addiction Affects Your BrainAddiction is a psychological phenomenon that involves obsessive and compulsive behavior. Addicts are compelled to engage in addictive behavior, even though it is clearly destructive and is causing serious problems in their lives. Addicts often want to quit but find it extremely difficult to do so. In the case of gambling addiction the addict may continue to gamble despite consequences to his or her life caused by the financial costs of the addiction. The gambling addict may get deep in debt, be unable to pay bills, car or mortgage payments and may lose all of his or her possessions. He or she may be financially unable to care for a family and may find that gambling leads to unemployment.

The chemical processes involved in the functioning of the human brain are complicated, but certain patterns are well established and recognizable. Brain scan technology has shown similarities in patterns in the “reward center” of the brain among addicts of all types, whether or not the addiction involves physical dependence on a substance. Addicts of all kinds receive a “rush” when engaging in drug use or their behavior of choice. Addicts also often engage in their addiction to escape from pressure or to numb emotional pain, and it is common that deep-rooted psychological issues underlie the addiction.

The Two Types of Problem Gamblers

Those who study gambling addiction recognize two main types of compulsive gamblers. The first type includes those who are addicted to the “rush” and action of gambling. This type of gambler tends to prefer action oriented games such as poker and craps, is drawn to “systems” such as counting cards and is more likely to “bet the farm” on a single hand.

The second type of compulsive gambler includes those who are seeking escape from their lives. This type is drawn to the comfortable, familiar process and tends to prefer mechanical means of gambling such as slot machines. This type of gambler is less likely to “lose it all” in one play but nevertheless tends to devote increasing amounts of time to gambling which results in increasing losses over time.

The Three Phases of Gambling Addiction

There are three clear stages in gambling addiction. These stages represent a downward spiral into increasingly destructive behavior and increasingly serious consequences that build up over time. The stages of gambling addiction include the following:

  • The winning phase. A win or a series of wins gives the gambler a rush and implants a positive association in the mind. The gambler often remembers this experience while tending to forget about losses.
  • The losing phase. Compelled to try to repeat the experience of winning, the gambler begins to devote more and more time to gambling. The statistical realities of gambling means that the more one gambles the greater the losses will be. This phase is marked by the beginning of serious negative consequences.
  • The desperation phase. Losses become devastating, and the gambler exhibits classic signs of addiction including denial, anxiety, withdrawal and depression. He or she gets heavily into debt or engages in criminal activity to cover losses. The most serious consequences may include imprisonment or suicide.

All stages of gambling addiction may be accompanied by a co-occurring addiction issue. Gamblers may turn to drugs to heighten positive moods or the rush associated with gambling, or they may turn to drugs as a means of escaping or coping with the negative aspects of gambling addiction.

Questions about Gambling Addiction or Treatment?

If you are struggling with a gambling problem or a combination of gambling addiction and co-occurring issues such as drug addiction or mental health issues, call our toll-free helpline. There is a way out from under addiction, and we can help you find it.