Gambling and the brain; the biological explanation of gambling addiction.
Most people who take part in any form of gambling once have no problem leaving it at that one time. They go to the casino once with colleagues, or for instance buy a lottery ticket at the end of the year, but that's it.
Some people, however, are extra sensitive to the stimuli of gambling. This has to do with genetic factors, but also environmental factors play a role. For example, someone who is experiencing a lot of problems at work, in relationships and/ or friendships is more likely to want to escape into gambling than someone who is comfortable and doing well in the different areas of life.
Gambling can cause you to go into a trance-like state that is comparable to driving a car and suddenly discovering that you have driven several kilometers without realizing it. Or when you are reading a book and are so engrossed in it that you forget the time. When this trance also involves dopamine, the trance turns into a stupor. And when you are in this state of intoxication, you run a great risk of going beyond your limits, not stopping gambling in time. You are therefore at greater risk of becoming addicted to gambling.
In the brain, signals are transmitted by certain substances called neurotransmitters. These substances enable neurons and nerve cells to communicate with each other. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays the main role in developing a gambling addiction.
The release of dopamine provides a pleasant feeling/ feeling of reward in activities such as eating and reproducing. These activities are directly linked to our survival and are therefore also called 'primary occupations'. That is why this reward system is so strong, because nature is focused on survival. In addition, this substance plays an important role in the executive function (the ability to make plans and think logically) but also in motor control and feelings of motivation and excitement.
(Conrad, B. (2018), The Role of Dopamine as a Neurotransmitter in the Human Brain, The Role of Dopamine as a Neurotransmitter in the Human Brain - Enzo Life Sciences)
Dopamine also stimulates risky activities, especially when there is a chance of a favorable outcome, as in gambling. This is because when you seem to have the possibility of getting something you want, you are willing to take extra risks to get it, so you quickly go beyond your limits.
So basically, when you gamble, your body makes dopamine and you feel good. But this addictive substance is released even at the thought of a possible victory. This quickly creates a link between gambling and feeling good, which results in you gambling more often to feel good. But in the end, that's exactly what makes you feel miserable.
When someone is a long-term gambling addict, their brain produces endorphins in addition to dopamine. Endorphins are also neurotransmitters and this substance also makes you feel good.
Gambling addicts are thus addicted to the cocktail of "feel-good substances" that the brain releases while actively engaged in gambling. The anticipation of a possible win causes the brain to be flooded with endorphins and dopamine and collectively these substances create a euphoric high, which can be very addictive.