Why Can’t Some People Stop Gambling?
From the outside looking in, many people might think that gambling can be stopped at any time. For the problem gambler, this is not the case. Problem gamblers spend huge amounts of money, sell everything they own, and destroy their life simply to stay in the game. It is not as simple as stopping whenever you want to.
There are things that happen in a problem gambler’s mind that make it nearly impossible to stop gambling. These brain tricks keep gamblers in the game through irrational decision making and are very powerful. They are powerful enough to keep a person playing despite all the negative consequences.
Problem gamblers focus on the wins. They could lose thousands of dollars but they remember with great detail the time they won $100. This win pushes all the losses out of existence in the mind. Memories do influence how we behave in general; therefore, the memory of the wins, keeps the gambler in the game. The thought process becomes, I won before, I can win again. The problem with these memories is that they are distorted. A person who lost $1,000 and won $50 and remembers only the $50 win, is not thinking rationally. If a problem gambler decides to enter treatment, new thoughts should include focusing on how much was lost.
In general, many people like to experience pleasure. Our brains are wired to seek pleasure to get a reward. Problem gamblers also like to seek pleasure and get a reward; however, the brain of a problem gambler is wired differently. Their brain lights up even when they almost win. In a recent study, it was found that if a problem gambler almost wins, the reward centers of their brain are activated the same as if there was a bigger win. If a video poker addict wins 20 coins instead of 50 coins, the brain’s reward system is still activated. It is as if the brain makes losing almost as gratifying as winning. This makes it more difficult for the problem gambler to stop gambling. In recovery, the problem gambler will need to incorporate activities that activate the reward system in the brain without gambling.
Many problem gamblers do not think about the odds of what they are betting. Some believe they can predict a win and often feel superior to odds. This is a form of magical thinking that will keep a gambler in the game. Some gamblers report that they know when and where a win will occur such as what card is next in the deck. Gambler’s fallacy is seen with lotteries. The gambler will not think about how the odds of winning the lottery are so outrageous but rather focus on them being the one in a one and a million outcome.
Illusion of Control
Illusion of control and gambler’s fallacy are similar. Illusion of control is superstition whereby the gambler believes they can control the outcome of their gambling. Some problem gamblers might have a lucky shirt or a piece of jewelry that will ensure the win. This is false confidence that can lead to an increase of risky betting. This illusion of control is pervasive and many gamblers believe that they have control over other parts of their lives.