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.
For research on pathological gambling check out: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3722301/