Gambling is often much maligned in the press, as something that breaks homes, causes financial meltdowns and ruins lives on many other levels. However, this one-sided view is easy to take; fuelled by the media's need to pander to the public conception of the gambling world – a world that they would never find themselves locked in, despite their own weekly purchase of lottery tickets and “occasional” punt on the Grand National.
The media also seems to portray those addicted to gambling as society's degenerates, people who only have themselves to blame for falling into the destructive cycle of chasing yesterday's losses. As with most subjects though, there is far more to gambling addiction than meets the eye. In this article written and researched by MobileSlots4U, we will look at the reasons behind addiction, in particular the body's reaction to dopamine, to show that gamblers aren't simply people who have themselves to blame and instead that they are people with a predisposition to addiction in one form or another…
Should We All Be Addicts?
Take a look at yourself and ask one simple question – have I gambled in the last year? At first glance the answer to this might well be that you haven't. But you need think harder. Have you bought a lottery ticket? Have you been to the local bingo club on a whim one Friday evening? Have you placed even a pound in a slot machine at the local pub? All of these things are forms of gambling that can very well lead to an addiction in some people. So, why didn't you follow this behaviour up with more gambling, until you eventually lost your house, family and friends? Could it be true that you possess something (self-restraint in your DNA?) that other misfortunate souls lack?
The truth is, most people don't become gambling addicts, so there must be a reason why dependency occurs – it can't possibly be because people start gambling, otherwise we'd all be in the bookies spending our pay cheque! A study by researchers at Washington University in 2005 showed that approximately 80% of people in the USA gamble, yet there is certainly not an addiction rate of 80% in the country. In fact, of all the gamblers in the USA, the addiction rate is at about 1.8%.
So, why is it that this 1.8% of the US population finds themselves struggling with gambling, yet the vast majority are perfectly safe having a flutter? The answer must lie mainly with the individual's own body; we are all different, complex beings and have certain vulnerabilities built into our internal coding.
Dopamine, the “happy chemical”
When it comes to peoples' proclivity to gamble, there is one chemical in the body that plays a bigger role than any of the others; dopamine. In fact, it is this naturally occurring chemical that forms the basis for all addictions. Of course, there are other factors, but dopamine is the big fish in this big pond.
Dopamine is a chemical associated with the feeling of pleasure, and even elation. When you receive a hug from a loved one, dopamine levels rise; when you engage in sexual intercourse, dopamine levels spike sharply; when you win £100 in a game of bingo, they shoot up as well. It isn't surprising that it even rises when drugs are released into your system, explaining the feelings of vast euphoria.
So what exactly is the point of dopamine? Being “happy” surely can't be that essential to the survival of the human race, is it? Well, it actually is. Dopamine released during sex encourages people to engage in intercourse, therefore furthering the human race. Dopamine released when we eat something tasty means that humans as a species have kept themselves nourished for all these years. It is an essential component of life itself, almost as though our bodies are blackmailing us to keep us alive.
It is of course the case that we all want to be happy, and when that dopamine level rises inside of us, we naturally want the feeling to happen again and again. This means that some people eternally chase this dopamine high through gambling, looking for the thrill that this chemical brings as they wait to see whether they are going to get a big payday. We don't all get addicted to this high though – the vast majority can control it – so why is dopamine so damaging to a minority?
Why Do Some People Get Affected By Dopamine More?
Various studies have shown – including a study at The Addiction Science Research and Education Center at the University of Texas – have shown that it isn't the presence of dopamine that is the problem, Instead, it is the body's lack of response to this chemical that causes the issue. Much like drug users, who have to take more drugs than a regular person to achieve their high, those with a proclivity towards gambling addiction need more dopamine in order to feel the sensation most other people feel.
Without confusing ourselves too much with the scientific jargon, more dopamine leads to more pleasure, which in turn leads to more chances of addiction. This means that those with a biological tendency to produce excessive amounts of dopamine are more likely to experience the strains of an addictive personality than those with normal levels. This isn't something one can control on their own, much like any other illness, so how can an addict possibly be blamed for their addiction?
To illustrate the effects of dopamine on the body's urge to gamble, people with Parkinson's Syndrome provide a good platform. Those suffering from this illness are often provided with medication that increases the dopamine in their system and in many cases Parkinson's sufferers have reported a large increase in the urge to gamble – even when they have had no prior gambling problems in earlier life. This was detailed in an article by The Dana Foundation, an organisation devoted to brain research.
Does Dopamine Imbalance Always Lead to Addiction?
It would be foolish – as well as quite incorrect – to state that an imbalance in the amount of dopamine in the body means that someone will definitely become addicted to gambling, or one of many other addictive problems. This is because there are various other factors that can also promote or hinder a gambling addiction, meaning that dopamine is just a contributory factor, albeit a very large one.
One of the biggest factors that often prevents those with unusual dopamine production levels from getting addicted to gambling is the environment around them. The argument for this is simple – if people don't have access to gambling, they can't possibly become addicted to it. This means that those without access to betting shops or to the internet are unable to experience that initial gambling rush, therefore an addiction is unable to take hold.
Social circumstances are also often the defining reason why gambling dependency doesn't develop. There is often a negative stigma attached to gambling, especially in some religions, and the shame or fear of being seen overrides the need to gamble.
In other cases, a person's personality might be the cause for addiction not forming, as the body is, as already mentioned, an incredibly complex thing. Constant worrying about losing money or simply a large helping of common sense can cause the dopamine effects to be side-lined, much in the same way most people drink alcohol, but don't become addicted to the substance. Of course, a significant period of stress or other personal problems can cause this judgement to be impaired though. So much so that it causes one to turn to gambling as a release. From here the rapid surge of dopamine takes over, leading to addiction, even after the stressful period has passed.
So, dopamine is a common factor within gambling addicts, but it is not only gambling addicts that have this dopamine imbalance. However, bear in mind that it is not only gambling addicts who have this dopamine imbalance. While unusual levels of dopamine are present, an addiction to gambling is always going to be a risk, however a trigger is usually needed in order to turn the individual into a full-blown addict, as opposed to someone who bets occasionally and controls their urges effectively.
What To Do If You Have An Addiction
If you think you have a gambling problem, there are many options open to you to get help. There is no point trying to analyse for yourself why you have this addiction – dopamine or not, it is still a problem that needs solving – so instead you should seek professional help as soon as possible. Your doctor is a good place to start, although you can also seek help from a number of dedicated organisations too, should you feel uncomfortable talking to your family GP about the problem. Two well-known organisations for gambling addicts are Gamblers Anonymous and GamCare, both of which will give you professional and sympathetic advice to solve your problem.
Article researched & written by the mobile slots magazine, MobileSlots4U.
 Washington University researchers assessing rates and risks of gambling. Jim Dryden, Washington University in St. Louis, 2005.
 Addicted: Why Do People Get Hooked? Mounting Evidence Points To A Powerful Brain Chemical Called Dopamine. J. Madeleine Nash, Time Magazine, 1997
 Gambling Among Parkinson’s Patients Raises Questions About Dopamine. Jim Schnabel, 2009.
 Gambling Addiction. Bill Burton.
First released on PRWire.