gambling addiction
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Gambling Addiction & the Brain

There are many different substances to which a person can become addicted. When one thinks of addiction, alcoholism and common drug addictions like cocaine and heroin addiction are usually what come to mind. With these types of addiction, an individual develops a tolerance, then a physical dependency, and then he or she is simply unable to stop and must continue abusing the substance to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. Behavioral addictions can be just as harmful as a substance abuse problem and can affect virtually every aspect of one’s life.

When it comes to these behavioral addictions, food addiction, sex addiction, and gambling addiction are some of the most common. Although behavioral addictions are similar to alcoholism and drug addiction, there are many who question the validity of gambling as an actual addiction.

Does gambling affect the same areas of the brain as alcohol or drugs? Does gambling addiction progress in much the same way as substance abuse problems, beginning with the development of a tolerance and continuing to withdrawal in its absence? Is it easier or harder to recovery from a behavioral addiction such as gambling? What are some of the signs that someone could have a gambling addiction?

The following will address all of these questions and more in an effort to determine whether gambling is a real addiction, how gambling addiction develops, and how a gambling addiction affects or is reflected in the brain.

Is Gambling Addiction Real?

Alongside food and sex, gambling is one of the most frequently-cited behaviors that are potentially addictive. There are many, many individuals who exhibit problematic gambling behavior, which is characterized by an inability to resist or control gambling impulses. However, is it an actual, real addiction? According to the available evidence, the answer is: Yes.

Gambling addiction — also commonly referred to as compulsive gambling — is a recognized variant of an impulse control disorder, which is a condition involving an inability or unwillingness to control one’s impulses, desires, or urges. Even when a gambling addict is aware of the harm that gambling has caused himself or herself and the harm his or her gambling could be causing others, a gambling addict is unable to resist the urge to gamble. In fact, a popular rule-of-thumb for determining whether an individual has a gambling addiction is to determine whether he or she would be willing to gamble to very last bit of his or her money in order to overcome the debt caused by prior gambling behavior; in such an instance, the individual would prove that despite having fallen into financial ruin due to gambling, he or she is still ready and willing to gamble away the last of his or her money while expecting a different outcome.

Unlike other forms of addiction, a compulsive or problem gambler doesn’t necessarily have to gamble every day in order to have a gambling problem. Having a gambling problem simply means that an individual is unable to recognize that gambling has caused or is causing him or her problems. Oftentimes, this is a conscious denial of the reality that gambling is causing an individual harm, which allows them to continue gambling. Additionally, their denial will often lead gamblers to ask their friends and family for loans to get out of debt; they won’t usually admit what the money is for, but they don’t feel that their debt is something that the brought on themselves, which makes them more willing to ask others for money to help pay their debts. In fact, gamblers will often go to great lengths to get more money with which to gamble, much like an alcoholic or drug addict will often resort to acts of great desperate or even criminal behavior in order to obtain the money needed to get more alcohol or drugs.

Gambling Addiction & the Brain’s Opioid Receptors

A recent study sought to determine whether there were neurological differences between gambling addicts and non-addicts. In particular, the researchers wanted to identify any differences in the opioid receptors and the stimulation of hormones and neurochemicals like endorphins in the brains of those who suffer from gambling addiction. The researchers had expected to find that the brains of gambling addicts had more opioid receptors than those of non-addicts, but they actually found that there was no difference in the number of opioid receptors. After giving the group of gambling addicts and the group of non-addicts a medication that would stimulate production of endorphins, they observed that the gambling addicts experienced much lower endorphin production and the brains of non-addicts. This meant that the gambling addicts experienced less euphoria from the spike of endorphins than those who weren’t addicted to gambling.

In individuals who become addicted to alcohol or other substances like cocaine and heroin, their brains develop an elevated number of opioid receptors, which is part of the underlying process of tolerance development and causes addicts to begin needing more and more of their substances of choice in order to experience the desired effects. However, the brains of gambling addicts don’t develop an elevated number of opioid receptors as they would if addicted to alcohol or drugs, indicating that there are fundamental differences between gambling addiction and chemical dependency. The fact that gambling addicts had much lower levels of endorphins than the non-addicts after both groups were given a drug to stimulate endorphin production suggests that gambling addicts generally experience much less pleasure from pleasurable things than non-addicts.

Recovery Is a Phone Call Away with Drug Treatment Center Finder

Although gambling is widely recognized as a legitimate addiction, the above study illustrates just how much we have yet to learn about the disease of addiction, whether it’s chemical or behavioral. Gambling addiction is a serious disease that can ruin many lives and even break families apart. If you or someone you love is suffering from gambling addiction and would like to discuss treatment options, call Drug Treatment Center Finder today. Our recovery specialists are available for free consultations and assessments, which will allow you or your loved one the chance to regain health, independence, and a life of fulfillment.