How the Brain Gets Addicted

Online casino gambling is an activity enjoyed by millions of people and has only been getting more popular. However, sometimes gambling gets to be too much, and problems can develop. Today we’re going to examine gambling addiction and the psychology of gambling.

Alexandra Nereng has considerable experience in the gambling industry. With her background in social science, she was also an excellent choice to talk about addiction.

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What is addiction?

Before we talk about gambling addiction specifically, let’s look more at what addiction itself is. It’s well accepted that substances like nicotine can be very addicting. This is one reason why smoking is so hard to quit.

Opiates and other drugs can also create addictions and dependency. What about gambling, though, which is more of an activity? Drugs directly affect our brain chemistry and produce positive effects. Opiates, for example, when prescribed and used responsibly, reduce severe pain.

However, if taken for more extended periods of time, people begin to experience withdrawal effects. As soon as the drugs leave the system, the person starts to feel far worse. Continued use also impairs the body’s production of pain-relieving substances. The person, therefore, becomes dependent on the opiate.

Gambling addiction

Experts have long disagreed on whether gambling can cause an addiction. It is in the DSM-V, though, which means gambling addiction is officially recognized by the American Psychological Association.

The psychology of gambling is more difficult to describe. It’s not simply that the gambler wins money and wants to win more. Also, no two people are alike. You can take two individuals, have both gamble the same amount, and one may develop a problem, whereas the other may not.

Genetics play an important role in who is more likely to develop an addiction. Some people have genetic factors that make them more susceptible, where others are more resilient.

How gambling addiction develops

The latest gambling addiction research has helped to shed more light on many things. First, it’s been shown that gambling can rewire the brain’s circuits similarly to drugs. When people gamble, they can get a particular rush.

Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that’s responsible for a good mood and positive feelings. You’ve probably heard the expression, “that really gave me a rush.” It means some activities can be really exhilarating and cause a release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, much like drugs.

With this realisation, we can begin to understand how and why gambling addiction develops. A release of dopamine can serve to have you do the same activity again. In turn, compulsive gambling can begin to take hold.

Risk factors for addiction

Two main factors have been found that can contribute to addiction. In other words, it explains why some people become addicted, and others don’t.

One risk factor is when your brain’s reward system is considered to be underactive. This means the person has difficulty releasing dopamine in a regular, natural way. Since they can’t get dopamine through everyday activities, more thrilling ones like gambling provide the dopamine they crave.

The second risk factor is an underactive prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the “thinking” part of our brain. It’s meant to control impulsive behaviour and bad decisions. If this area isn’t working correctly, it’s easy to see why people may continue doing something in excess that’s not necessarily good for them.

Responsible gambling

With an increasing awareness of the adverse effects of gambling, online casinos have a responsible gambling page. Often these pages highlight signs and symptoms to watch out for and may offer tools to players. There may even be questionnaires for players to take to assess themselves.

Some responsible gaming tools include setting deposit limits, time limits and wager limits. It’s an excellent way to make sure things don’t go overboard. Usually, there are links to gambling addiction resources if players do need extra help.


We now have a much better understanding of the problems gamblers can face when things get out of control. Of course, gambling can be a fun recreational activity, and it is for many people. Like everything, though, moderation is key.

WE SAID THIS: What other addictions have you read about?