At first glance, gambling is illogical. You’re spending money to play games or enter drawings that you know are stacked against you, often absurdly so. So why do we do it? Why do we buy lottery tickets, visit casinos, bet at the track and put money on our favorite sports teams?
Because of dopamine. Sweet, sweet dopamine, the human body’s most powerful drug.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that nerve cells release to send signals to other nerve cells. These signals can aid the body in determining how to react to stimuli. In plain English, dopamine is how certain nerves in your brain tell other nerves that what you’re doing feels good. When you experience a reward, like say, hitting the jackpot, the nerves in your brain release high levels of dopamine. This is that rush you feel when you win – it’s an organic high that, like the high from a synthetic drug, leaves your body wanting more when you come back down. So you buy another lottery ticket or pull the lever on the slot machine again, trying to recreate that win and feel that high again.
Gambling Addiction is Actually a Dopamine Addiction
Individuals who battle with compulsive gambling disorders are not necessarily addicted to the payouts or the act of playing. They’re addicted to the chemical that floods their brains when they play. The psychiatric community has only truly accepted that gambling addiction is akin to drug addiction within the past decade. In this time, some doctors and researchers have devoted their studies to learning more about how the brain becomes addicted to gambling, leading to the reclassification of gambling addiction from an impulse-control disorder to an addiction in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, which was published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association.
Studies have found that individuals who have dopamine imbalances, which causes them to experience lower responses to normal levels of dopamine release during these pleasurable moments, are more likely to develop a dependency on the neurotransmitter. This causes these individuals to display symptoms of an addictive personality. Basically, this means they have a high tolerance for dopamine, which causes them to need to gamble more to feel the same high that those with normal dopamine tolerance feel when gambling.
Although a dopamine imbalance is not a guarantee that an individual will develop a gambling addiction, it is certainly a factor that can play into one.
Seeking Help for a Gambling Addiction
Although biology can be to blame for a gambling addiction, this does not mean that an individual can’t cure his or her gambling addiction. There are various programs in place to help problem gamblers, such as the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ). Through this organization, you can find Gambler’s Anonymous meetings, which are meetings that work similarly to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and focus on making healthier choices to beat addiction.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need with your gambling addiction. If you have reached a point where you feel like you can’t climb out the hole you’ve gambled yourself into or that you can’t quit, no matter how much you recognize that you need to quit, call 1-800-GAMBLER to speak with a representative of the CCGNJ. You can find new ways to get your dopamine fix and liberate yourself from