The Science Of Gambling


For some people the risk and excitement
of gambling is a bit of fun and maybe even a chance to win some money. But like
alcohol, drugs, eating, shopping, or gaming gambling can develop into a harmful
habit. Someone with a gambling addiction will keep on gambling despite any
negative effects it’s having and even if they realize it’s bad for them. But why
is this? Gambling is a risk and reward experience. In our brains there are
certain happiness chemicals like dopamine and endorphins that get
released to let us know when a risk pays off. So when you win these chemicals make
you feel good. For example, if you place a bet on a horse and predict that it’s
going to win and then that horse ends up winning, the brain will release some of
those chemicals giving you that rush of satisfaction and ultimately making you
feel like gambling some more. The more this reward system is activated, the more
tolerance is built up and the less of an impact the chemicals will have. So for
someone to get the same rush and excitement they got from the first bet
they’ll need to take bigger and bigger risks every time they gamble. The brain
then becomes conditioned into wanting more and more to trigger its reward
system to the point where the mental wiring changes. Getting this back to
normal means undoing weeks, months potentially even years of negative
impact. When someone has developed a gambling problem the area of the brain
called the prefrontal cortex which controls impulses and weighs up risk and
reward in the short and long term also doesn’t work as it needs to and it’s
more likely to make a decision on an immediate reward rather than any
long-term impact. Ultimately this means not being able to control any impulse to
bet. When a person reaches this stage it has become an addiction and it’s likely
causing more than just financial problems. Their relationships, mental and
physical health, and social life can all be affected and withdrawal symptoms can
become more and more intense the longer the addiction continues. Gambling can be
difficult to give up but recovery is possible no matter how difficult the situation may
appear. If you or someone you care about has a gambling problem you can find a
list of support services at spunout.ie/gamblinghelp

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