How Does Gambling Affect the Brain?

Gambling Jun 17, 2023

Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. It can involve betting on sports events, buying lotto tickets or even using pokies (Australian slots). The term ‘gambling’ may also be used to refer to any of the various forms of online gambling and virtual gaming. It is important to understand how gambling affects the brain and factors that can lead to problematic gambling.

Problematic gambling can have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life. It can result in significant financial losses and strain on family, work and relationships. It can also cause emotional distress and increase the likelihood of other addictions, such as substance use or depression. A person may also have difficulty recognizing that their gambling is becoming harmful. It is common for a person to deny that they have a problem and to hide evidence of their gambling activities.

Research has shown that some people are more prone to gambling problems than others. It is thought that some people have an underactive reward system, or are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. Some people may also have certain illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or depression, which can trigger or be made worse by gambling and make it harder to stop.

A key factor in the development of gambling problems is the environment in which a person gambles. Research has found that gambling environments and social norms can have a strong influence on gambling attitudes, behaviours and harms. It is also important to consider the role of urges and how they can impact on a person’s gambling behaviour.

Several studies have linked gambling to the prevalence of mood disorders. People with a history of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder are more likely to develop problems with gambling. This is because these conditions can trigger or make worse gambling behavior, as well as mask underlying issues. It is therefore important to seek help for these conditions, particularly if they are co-occurring with gambling disorder.

The research literature on gambling harm is growing, but is still underdeveloped compared to other areas of public health. This is partly due to the lack of a clear and consistent definition of harm, but it is also related to the challenges in conducting longitudinal gambling studies (i.e. identifying the same participants over long periods of time and controlling for aging and period effects).

In order to reduce the harm associated with gambling, it is important to avoid gambling products that are designed to keep people engaged. Instead, people should only gamble with money that they can afford to lose and never chase their losses. They should also learn healthier ways to cope with unpleasant emotions, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble and practicing relaxation techniques. It is also helpful to see a therapist for any underlying mood disorders that could be contributing to the gambling problem, such as depression or stress.