When the subject of addiction is broached it typically conjures up thoughts of drugs or alcohol. Chemical dependency is the most commonly known form of addiction among the population, primarily because it involves putting an actual physical substance into the body, and hence has a more overt cause and effect relationship. So it should come as no surprise that only in the last ten or so years has gambling become recognized by the medical and psychological communities as a legitimate potential addiction on the same order as the likes of cocaine, heroin, nicotine, and other highly addictive substances. The only difference is that gambling is a behavioral addiction as opposed to a chemical substance addiction.
HOW DOES GAMBLING QUALIFY AS POTENTIALLY ADDICTIVE?
In order to answer the question of how gambling becomes an addiction is necessary to understand how any addiction is developed. The American Psychiatric Association has done several studies on the psychology, neuroscience, and genetic elements inherent in addictive behavior and has found that there are far more parallels between drug and gambling addiction than they originally believed. It has been proven that the brain changes dramatically during the developmental stages of addiction. Generally speaking, when a person engages in any kind of activity that the brain believes is keeping the body alive or assisting in the perpetuation of the human species, it rewards the rest of the body with a chemical called dopamine, which when released from the brain gives the body a feeling of satisfaction. This feeling is intended as encouragement to us to keep engaging in that activity so that more dopamine can be released and the body can remain alive. When this reward system is “artificially” stimulated by things like drugs and gambling, it releases as much as ten times the normal amount of dopamine and a need for that excessive amount of satisfaction develops.
SEEKING REWARDS AD NAUSEUM
Addictive substances and behaviors flood the brain with dopamine to such an extent that eventually it gets used to the dopamine and becomes increasingly less responsive to the pleasure it elicits. Subsequently the addict develops a tolerance to the drug or behavior, causing the addiction. He or she eventually requires increasingly greater amounts of the drug or activity in order to feel the effects of the dopamine. Addicts crave the reward that is the pleasure derived from their drug or behavior and begin to engage in it compulsively. When they are separated from the drug or behavior then withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. In the case of gambling, addicts enjoy the dopamine which is released as they play and even think about and strategize. But when they leave the gambling table, they may experience a drop in dopamine, which causes them to want to return.
GAMBLING IS SEEN AS AN ADDICTION BY SCIENTISTS BUT NOT BY GAMBLERS
It is estimated that upwards of eighty percent of gambling addicts never seek treatment because they don’t believe that gambling can be an addiction. Regardless of the fact that they find it all but impossible to stop gambling despite the detrimental effect it has on their lives and the lives of their loved ones, they are constantly seeking out that rush they get from winning, even if it costs them everything they have in the process. It is indeed an expensive habit but the expense is far from just monetary.