Who Is Responsible for the Onset of Gambling Addiction?
With the bright lights, free drinks, and flashing signs of how much you can win, it might seem that casinos have something to do with the development of compulsive gambling. The truth is, a casino is a business, designed to turn a profit like any other business. Casinos make between 30 to 60 percent of their gambling revenues from problem gamblers, and this was discovered through nine independent studies. Some argue that casinos are somewhat responsible for problem gambling but interestingly, the American Gaming Association reported that “the prevalence of pathological gambling…is no higher today than it was in 1976, when Nevada was the only state with legal slot machines.” This may seem far-reaching when one considers that casinos exist in almost every state now and Internet gambling activities are available 24/7/365.
If the casinos are not responsible, who is? The questions should be, what is responsible for problem gambling? An individual may start gambling for fun or for social reasons and be enticed by the bright lights and free drinks initially; however, the brain and its processes will keep them playing over time.
Each brain has a reward system of circuits and neurons that are involved in our memories, movements, pleasures, and motivations. When we experience pleasure, our reward systems produce dopamine, which provides us with a feeling of satisfaction. When a person uses cocaine, for example, the reward system produces up to 10 times the normal amount of dopamine. Research has shown that drugs and gambling alter the brain’s circuits in similar ways.
Further, other research indicates that problem gamblers and drug addict share similar genetic predispositions for reward-seeking behavior. If a drug addict needs more of a drug to get the same result, a problem gambler will need to gamble more to obtain that reward in the brain. When the gambling or drug taking is stopped, both will experience symptoms of withdrawal.
The idea of an addiction has changed over the years, where professionals used to believe that addiction could only occur with the ingestion of chemicals. Now, addiction is more defined by the pursuit of a rewarding experience despite negative consequences for which problem gambling qualifies.