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Why is Gambling So Difficult to Stop? How Many are Addicted?

Those with a gambling addiction will find it very hard to stop due to the physical and mental links formed by the habit. People with an addiction not always interested in the win/loss factor of playing. Instead, their goal is to remain active for as long as possible. That action will encourage different chemical levels in the brain that can cause feelings of happiness and excitement. 

Addiction is a disease, and there are distinct phases that are experienced. These include the winning phase, losing phase and desperation phase. As the addiction progresses, gamblers lose their ability to control impulses, making it nearly impossible to stop without treatment. Since the addiction causes chemical imbalances in the brain, just like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, addicts cannot simply stop their actions. Treatment and recovery is necessary, and problem gamblers can experience withdrawal symptoms. The process of stopping is long and can be painful for the gambler. Players will continue to crave that release of dopamine and adrenaline, even when they know they have to address their addiction.

What Percentage of Players are Addicted?

Research has shown 0.5% of those who gamble in the United Kingdom have a gambling addiction. However, enhanced statistics indicate 3.1% of gamblers in Britain bet more than they can afford. They exceed set budgets and are unable to control their impulses. Recent changes have forced many players to engage in online gambling. The ability to conduct transactions and play a game for real money from home has increased the number of players and has also caused an increase in the number of addicted players. As of March 2022, there was a 43% increase in the number of people engaging in gambling activities. 

In 2022, there has also been an increase in the number of people visiting land-based casinos in the UK. Numbers have increased to 26% from 23% the previous year. However, online casinos continue to attract players, and especially younger adults. These players are at a high risk of developing gambling problems. Studies have shown 750,000 teens and young adults worldwide currently suffer from a gambling addiction.

What Gambling Does to the Brain

Gambling affects the brain, and this will be evident when players win or lose after placing a real-money bet. There is a direct relation between gambling and the levels of dopamine released by one’s brain. Dopamine is a chemical that provides feelings of pleasure. This is one of the major factors that can make gambling addictive for many players. When you are playing casino games online and hit a jackpot, players will often experience a rush due to a large release of dopamine. Many people want to experience that rush repeatedly, which is why they continue to gamble after enjoying a big win.

Increased Tolerance

Just like any drug, your body and brain will develop a tolerance. As you release more dopamine, the body will require even larger levels to create those same feelings of joy and elation. The more chemicals released by the brain during gambling, the less of an impact they will have as it adjusts. 

Tolerance is built over time, and the more the reward system in the brain is stimulated, the more it will build a tolerance. As gambling habits progress, that same reward response will become less intense. As players continue to place bets, they will develop a high tolerance and need to take bigger risks to achieve the same sensation. This results in gambling addictions as players are chasing that chemical reaction.

Impulse Control

Another way gambling affects the brain is by through the prefrontal cortex, where decisions are made. This area also controls impulses and examines risk and reward situations. Like tolerance of dopamine, some players will lose the ability to weigh risks and rewards as effectively. They often make hasty decisions when betting as they search for immediate rewards. 

Withdrawals

If you are a compulsive gambler, you will experience the same withdrawal symptoms you would if you were addicted to any drug. Players can experience trouble sleeping, irritability, sweating and feeling unwell. This is because the behaviours have interfered with the risk-reward dynamic and led to a gambling dependence. When the gambling activities stop, your brain will experience withdrawal symptoms. 

If you or anyone you know have a gambling addiction problems, please visit gambleaware for hotlines and specialist who can help.