How Does Gambling Affect Your Brain?

How Does Gambling Affect Your Brain?
Published: Feb, 29 2024
5 mins read
How Does Gambling Affect Your Brain?

Some people like casino games because they give them regardless if they win or lose. Gambling doesn’t affect the lives of these guys. However, others develop gambling addictions that affect their financial stability, mental health, and relationships. Did you know that your brain undergoes numerous changes each time you gamble? In this article, I explain the complex effects of gambling on the brain. You should be aware of these to avoid a gambling addiction.

Neurotransmitters and Hormones Activated by Gambling

  1. Dopamine
  2. Serotonin
  3. Cortisol
  4. Adrenaline
  5. Endorphins

Dopamine

People naturally like activities that give rewards Gambling is special because it gives rewards at random times.  Each win leads to a dopamine increase, which is a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure from reward. Because casino games are unpredictable,

people want to gamble more and more. With time, the brain needs higher bets or more gambling to feel the same pleasure. Your normal state changes as your brain and body get used to more dopamine. Your tolerance goes up and you need to gamble more to feel as good as you did at first. 

Serotonin

Serotonin controls mood. Gambling may briefly raise serotonin, and make people happy. But this boost doesn’t last long, and serotonin drops. The person again feels upset and goes to gamble in the hope of feeling better. Studies by various researchers show that people with a gambling problem often have low serotonin levels.

Cortisol

When there is a lot at stake, your body reacts to stress. Cortisol levels go up, preparing your body to either face the challenge or run away. This is a basic instinct called the “fight or flight” response. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises,  and sugar in your blood increases. Regular gambling keeps cortisol levels always high. Over time, this constant stress can harm both the body and mind and lead to heart disease, depression, and anxiety.

In addition, high cortisol levels weaken thinking skills and people make wrong decisions. They take more risks, which deepens their addiction cycle.

Adrenaline

Gambling is thrilling and makes your body release adrenaline. This rush can feel really good. But too much over time can cause problems. People need to take bigger risks or bets to feel the same excitement. Besides, same as cortisol, adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, raises your blood pressure, and you feel more stressed. So, adrenaline is good in terms of enhancing excitement, but chronic exposure to high levels of adrenaline contributes to poor decision-making and may lead to addiction. 

Endorphins

Winning makes your body release endorphins. You feel good and want to gamble more. But with time, people might depend on gambling to feel good from endorphins. Interestingly, when people addicted to gambling can’t gamble, they experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those of drug addicts. They become anxious, irritable, and often have mood swings. This occurs because their endorphin levels drop, and they miss the good feelings from gambling.

The Combination of Hormones

When you gamble, the mix of these hormones can cause gambling addiction. Be cautious of signs like 

  •  not being able to control the urge to gamble
  •  spending lots of time and money on gambling
  •  putting gambling before other important things

It’s important to spot the signs of gambling addiction early, as it’s easier to treat then. Gambling for a long time can change your brain permanently. Your brain’s reward system becomes extra sensitive to dopamine and other hormones.  However, the time it takes for these changes to happen differs from person to person. 

How Casinos Trick Your Brain

Casinos and game providers use tricks to keep people gambling for longer. This is true for both traditional and online casinos. Here are some ways they do it.

  • In casinos, you would see bright lights and colourful décor. They grab your attention and make you want to gamble more and for longer.
  • In traditional casinos, you would not see clocks or windows. No matter if you go at 9 am or 9 pm, the feeling inside the casino is always the same. It’s hard for players to know what time it is and they lose track of how long they’ve been gambling. 
  • Casino music serves the same purpose. It is repetitive and changes smoothly to keep you from noticing time passing.
  • Certain games are made in such a way that players feel like they can control the outcome. But those games are based on luck. 
  • Other games like slot machines are made to give you a feeling of “ almost win”. Players feel like they’re close to winning and continue playing.

Recovery and Brain Plasticity

When Irish players with severe gambling problems try to quit, they experience withdrawal symptoms because their hormone levels drop and they can’t raise them through other activities. Scientists are studying how gambling affects the brain to create personalized treatments for gambling addiction.

The good news is that the brain is capable of remarkable plasticity. It can change and adapt in response to new behaviours. Recovery from gambling addiction could be in retraining the brain to find pleasure in non-gambling activities. One way to do it is through cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). It has proven to help people rebuild their lives without gambling. But there are also other methods to consider. If you’re struggling with gambling addiction, you should try different treatments. One of them definitely will help you. In Ireland, there are treatment centres that offer various help for those trying to overcome gambling addiction.

If Casinos and Games Are So Dangerous, Why Aren’t They Closed?

Casinos and gambling are legal in many countries because they bring in money for governments and entertain many people. They’re regulated to reduce harm and encourage responsible gambling. Plus, for some people, gambling is just a fun activity with no harm.

Advantages of gambling

When done in moderation and responsibly, gambling can have some advantages for individuals. Here are a few potential benefits:

  • For many people, gambling is a form of entertainment and recreation.
  • Casinos are social venues where people meet others with similar interests. Gambling activities offer a sense of community and a way to socialize, share experiences, and enjoy the company of others in a vibrant environment.
  • While the odds generally favour the house, there is still a possibility of winning large jackpots or sums of money.
  • Playing games like poker and blackjack enhances cognitive skills such as mathematics, pattern recognition, and strategic planning. 
  • For some individuals, gambling in moderation can have psychological benefits, such as stress relief. 
  • On a broader scale, casinos and the gambling industry create employment opportunities and contribute to the economy. 

It’s important to be careful while gambling and know the risks. Responsible gambling means setting limits on time and money, viewing it as entertainment rather than a way to make money, understanding the odds, and being prepared to lose what you bet. If gambling gets out of control or starts affecting your life, the benefits can become problems.

Have you or someone you know experienced negative effects from gambling? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience and how you coped with it!

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