Even though gambling can bring joy, for some it becomes an addiction. Gambling addiction has now been recognized as a medical condition with symptoms similar to drug addiction.
Addiction to gambling may lead people into engaging in dangerous and even criminal behavior to fund their habit – including incurring debts or even theft for funding purposes, which may have devastating repercussions for family life and relationships.
While most gamblers engage in healthy behavior, there is a small group who develop pathological gambling for unknown reasons – though this may include more sinister motivations than enjoyment.
Humans crave control, and gambling’s inherent randomness can leave us frustrated and hoping we can figure out a system to win. This may involve trying to predict patterns in numbers, selecting “hot” or “cold” slot machines or performing rituals like tapping the machine with a lucky talisman or creating systems of control in which we attempt to implement our plan in order to win big.
Neuroscientific research has also demonstrated that repeated exposure to gambling triggers the release of dopamine in areas similar to those stimulated by drugs of abuse, prompting similar brain areas to release dopamine. Unfortunately, as is true with most impulse-control disorders, there is no definitive personality profile which distinguishes problem or pathological gambling; however certain traits such as impulsivity and sensation seeking are associated with higher levels of risk.
Gamblers frequently turn to gambling as an escape from worries, responsibilities and emotional distress. While it can provide temporary relief from stress and anxiety, this coping strategy also poses an increased risk of turning into problem gambling behavior.
Gambler’s fallacy (the false perception of chances to win) leads people who erroneously think their chances are greater to increase or place higher-value bets after experiencing losses, in an attempt to relieve their frustration. This behavior, known as loss-chasing, can eventually lead to financial disaster, even to bankruptcy.
Gambling may seem harmless at first glance, but it can quickly turn into an addiction with serious repercussions for relationships and careers. Some gamblers go to great lengths to fund their habit – incurring large debts or even stealing money from others to finance it. Gaining insight into the thought processes leading to problem gambling will enable therapists to develop effective treatment strategies such as cognitive behavioural therapy or psychodynamic therapy to address it more effectively.
Gambling disorders may lead to harmful behaviors that impair an individual’s social, vocational and financial well-being. As evidenced by 40-60 per cent of problem gamblers treated for their disorder displaying clinical depression or suicidal ideation (Battersby & Tolchard 1996).
Many individuals report being drawn to gambling because it offers them the potential for winning money, as well as believing they have some sort of control over a game governed by chance. Researchers have demonstrated this is part of what drives gambling addiction – giving gamblers an illusion of control that leads them down this path of pursuit.
The GFA measures four possible maintaining contingencies for gambling behaviour – tangible outcomes, social aspects, sensory experiences and escape. Furthermore, it includes a subscale which evaluates self-reported gambling for “fun”. While gamblers tend to report this type of gambling for “fun”, research backing up such claims remains inconsistent.
Gambling may bring pleasure, but it can also become addictive and lead to serious consequences. Addicts who gamble may lose money, ruin relationships and cause distress at work; sometimes using illegal or dishonest means such as borrowing, lying or stealing in order to fund their addictions.
Gambling is a complex activity, and researchers are still working to uncover its psychological causes. It is clear, however, that there are important biological determinants of problem gambling; one being dopamine’s role in drug addiction. Dopamine also appears to play an abnormally regulated role among gambling addicts; psychological factors include illusion of control – where gamblers believe they can exert skill over a game that is fundamentally random – leading to loss chasing patterns such as continuing their betting after experiencing losses in hopes that eventually win will emerge as well.