New Research Seeks to Provide a Better Understanding of Gambling Addiction

21 November 2022

Written by: hgamble

It is hoped new research might help individuals in treatment for gambling addiction better understand the challenges they face.

It is hoped new research might help individuals in treatment for gambling addiction better understand the challenges they face.

A research team from the University of Lincoln, UK, and Kings College, London, have synthesised details about what happens to the brain when someone becomes addicted to gambling.

Addiction evolves as the brain develops ‘cravings’ in response to ‘highs’ and those that experience these changes often have physical withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop.

Much like a drug addiction, the alterations in the brain, cause psychological and physiological symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, mood swings, sweating and an increased heart rate. These findings have contributed to a new book ‘Breaking Free: How to Stop Gambling’ self-help workbook.

Co-author of the chapter and Professor of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, Amanda Roberts said: “The book is a self-help workbook and is designed to help people and their loved ones assess the extent of their gambling problem and develop strategies to combat it.

“My chapter, written in collaboration with Steve Sharman, National Centre of Addictions Kings College London seeks to discuss how the brain’s pleasure and reward systems are activated by gambling in a very similar way that they are activated by drugs and looks at the “hooks” within gambling games that makes them so attractive and how the brain responds to them.

“It will hopefully be useful for individuals in treatment to understand better what they are up against when they are trying to break free from gambling; hormones, genetics and neurocognitive mechanisms all come in the equation.

“It was an honour to be invited by both Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Founder and Director and Venetia Leonidaki Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the National Problem Gambling Clinic to contribute.”

The research explains that gambling games are designed to be encapsulating, with enticing lights and sounds, creating an immersive experience. The ‘near-misses’ when a desired outcome is almost obtained stimulates parts of the brain that usually react to wins so the feeling of ‘nearly’ winning, rather than repeatedly losing, becomes more appealing, encouraging continued gambling.

The reward system in our brains provides a desire to repeat the same behaviour if it is something that provides us with a reward.

Many gamblers note the ‘rush’ of the first win, causing the main neurotransmitter involved, dopamine or ‘happy chemical’ to dominate the system.

Once these dopamine receptors decrease, depression can occur as the reward circuit becomes ‘blunted’ and the brain tries to get back to normal. This can be a symptom of withdrawal and can have psychological and physiological symptoms.

The research also notes that excessive gambling can become normalised, as tolerance is built causing minimal dopamine pleasure and encouraging more gambling to keep withdrawal and depression away.

Breaking Free: How to Stop Gambling can be purchased via Breaking Free: How To Stop Gambling: Bowden-Jones OBE, Henrietta: 9781911623922: Books.