Signs and Symptoms of Pathological Gambling

The core concept of gambling is that you risk something of value in the expectation of getting back something of even greater value. Though gambling is a socially acceptable recreational activity, for a small but significant number of people, gambling negatively impacts their whole life and that of their loved ones. 

Pathological gambling, also called as compulsive gambling or gambling disorder is characterized by an irrepressible impulse to gamble ignoring the serious consequences. 

According to scientists, gambling, similar to alcohol and drugs, stimulates the brain’s reward system with a potential for addiction. A person with compulsive gambling problem is likely to constantly chase stakes that lead to losses, drain savings, amass huge debt, or even choose to resort to theft or fraud to keep the habit going.

Exactly what causes gambling addiction is not yet fully understood. However, understanding and acknowledging the problem helps people seek help through professional treatment.

Signs that you or a loved one may have a gambling problem:

  • Restlessness and irritability when trying to cut down on gambling
  • Preoccupation including excessive thinking and planning for the next game of gambling
  • Increasing urge and use of more and more money to get the same level of thrill
  • Trying to regain lost money by betting higher stakesĀ 
  • Gambling as a way of relief from problems or feelings of guilt, anxiety or depression
  • Neglecting family, job or school work because of gambling
  • Resorting to illegal behavior, theft or fraud to continue gambling

Risk factors

Anyone can develop pathological gambling problem but there are some factors that make people more vulnerable to this addiction. These include:

Mental health disorders: It is observed that who are dealing with have substance abuse issues, depression or anxiety and other mental health disorders could also develop a compulsion to gamble.

Age: Addiction to gambling is more common in younger and middle-aged people though it could be seen the older adult population also. Gambling Another societal factor is that it isĀ 

Men and women: A study to understand gambling behavior differences based on sex noted associations of specific gambling activities for both genders. For example, problem gambling was strongly associated with gambling machines among women, whereas it was related to sports betting, poker and casino games among men.

Influence of others: If your family members or friends have a gambling problem, the chances are greater that you will, too.

Compulsive gambling may result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors. Sometimes people with a compulsive gambling problem may have remission where they reduce the number of times they gamble less for some time. However, without treatment, the remission usually isn’t permanent.

If you recognize your own behavior from the list of signs and symptoms for compulsive gambling, seek professional help.

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How the Brain Function is Affected in Gambling Addiction

Addiction to gambling is somewhat unique among other addiction related problems because it could go unnoticed for a long time.  

Similar to alcohol consumption, gambling in general is a socially accepted entertainment in the western culture. Whether it is lottery, scratch cards, casino games, bingo, slot machines, internet poker, or sports betting, it is considered as a recreational activity. 

Because of this, addiction problems to this seemingly fun activity generally goes under the guise of a harmless indulgence. However, for some people, it could progress into a serious problem with behavioural, emotional, financial or health consequences. 

Gambling addiction in an individual can manifest into desperation for money, compulsion to win at any cost for the thrill of it and an intense desire to achieve the social status of a winner.  

Experts indicate that gambling can run in families with other addictions. For example, if you have family members with alcoholism or drug use disorders, there is an increased likelihood that you are at a higher risk for gambling disorder. 

Recently, researchers and mental health specialists classified problem gambling as a behavioral addiction, adding it to the category of disorders that includes substance abuse issues. This decision is based on findings from neuroscience research which showed how people addicted to gambling exhibited many behaviors seen in drug and alcohol addicts, including changes in behavior and brain activity.

Research that justifies the classification of gambling disorder with other addictions is based on tests related to brain imaging and neurologic responses. For example, studies confirm the common patterns between substance abuse and gambling in the way brain reacts to certain cues tagged to reward system.

After studying brain scans, scientists explain this further saying that people predisposed to addiction have an underactive reward system reaction in their brain. Because of this, they are attracted to activities and substances such as gambling and drugs that stimulate their reward pathways.

One region in the brain that is associated both with gambling and substance use disorders is the prefrontal cortex. It is not surprising since this is the area that is linked to our decision-making, impulse control, and cognitive regulation. 

Scientists who study problem gambling acknowledge the complexity of the underlying neuroscience. A better comprehension could help to tailor treatments because people might inherently have variations in brain function that might be predisposing them to gambling problems. As researchers try to figure out the exact mechanism for gambling addiction, just understanding potential vulnerabilities could help people to be extra careful when considering recreational gambling related activities. 

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