Gambling: What Happens in the brain when we Get Hooked – and How to Regain Control
A gambling addiction can happen to anyone at any time. Gambling is so very addictive due to the potential rewards and dopamine release to the brain.
When the brain reacts to the sensations of gambling or betting, its reward system can be easily altered, which leads it to form new habits that become extremely difficult to break; this can cause you to feel out of control and unlike yourself.
But there’s a way out – get help for gambling with Ireland’s only dedicated gambling rehabilitation programme.
More on treating gambling addiction.
Gambling addiction dangers
We’ve seen how gambling addictions can destroy a person, leading to problems with mental health, cognition and relationships, not to mention the increased risk around criminality and bankruptcy.
Unlike drug and alcohol addiction, where symptoms are more physically noticeable, gambling addiction can escape under the radar with less apparent signs.
However, gambling addiction is just as serious as substance abuse disorders – this study points out that gamblers with addiction problems tend to increase their betting over time and end up going bankrupt, which in turn comes with its own set of problems.
Have you experienced gambling withdrawal symptoms? Check them here.
The gambler’s brain
Neuroimaging studies have shown us that several brain regions are associated with gambling. Moreover, these studies show that these essential regions associated with risky-decision take part in the brain’s memory, decision-making, and emotion regulation system.
Problem gamblers have activities in these areas of the brain.
But, more than this, the brain’s reward system, including the caudate nucleus, also shows increased activity when a gambler watches the results of their bet.
One study even found problem gamblers to have significantly higher levels of excitement when the brain released the chemical dopamine compared to non-addicted individuals. This dopamine release looks to reinforce problem gambling further by increasing excitement levels and reducing inhibitions.
A national-wide Irish problem
3,289,333 people in Ireland (two-thirds of the population) reported having gambled within the last 12 months in 2019. Since the pandemic, reports suggest that the industry is worth €8bn, with more and more punters turning to online gambling.
Further to this, gamblingcare.ie, a website dedicated to helping those with gambling problems, reported a 180 per cent increase in its visitors over recent months, suggesting that gambling addiction is growing substantially and alarmingly fast in Ireland.
Lack of gambling-specific programmes
There are no gambling addiction public health programmes to target and treat the fast-growing problem in Ireland.
Further, there is little education circulating and a further lack of gambler-specific training for health practitioners.
The worry here is that problem gamblers do not get the support they need to recover and that there is an over-reliance on NGOs and charities to save problem gamblers from their disease.
The problem here is that this adds pressure to the addiction field, which is already underfunded, understaffed and underprepared to deal with the growing addiction problem in Ireland. Waiting lists get longer, making it harder for the problem gambler to seek help for their behavioural condition.
Smarmore Castle’s dedicated gambling treatment centre
Smarmore Castle is one of Ireland’s leading addiction hospitals. With the help of gambling addiction specialists, we have devised our own, proven-to-work gambling addiction programme based on the 12 steps combined with CBT.
The programme helps problem gamblers:
- Understand their addiction
- Recognise what they want in place of gambling
- Build self-esteem, assertiveness and impulse control
- Manage any debts and general finances
How to tell if you have a problem
Do you have mixed feelings about gambling – do you feel frustration and anxiety? Ignoring these emotions only makes things more complicated. Eventually, your feelings and gambling issues will begin not just to affect you but everyone around you too.
Pay attention to how you feel when gambling and know the warning signs before developing a worrying issue. Then, take our gambling self-assessment quiz here.
Get in touch today
Last updated & clinically assessed 30 March, 2022