The Science Behind Gambling Addiction

min read
A man at a slot machine experiencing the stress that could be associated with gambling addiction and problem gambling.
BetMGM Jun 27, 2024, 10:41 AM

The study of addiction has made significant progress in the accurate diagnosis of problem gambling. Once considered an impulse-control disorder, problem gambling was recently reclassified and now falls under the category of addictive disorders.

Under this new definition, all forms of gambling can lead to addiction, regardless of whether it involves playing online casino games (like casino table games), purchasing lottery tickets, or making bets with friends. Because the wide range of experiences related to gambling makes problematic forms of behavior difficult to diagnose, understanding the causes of problem gambling and recognizing the signs of gambling addiction are incredibly important.

What Is Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling, known scientifically as ludomania, is an addictive disorder related to impulse control and obsessive-compulsive behavior. It’s characterized by disruption and damage to daily living, interference with regular routines, and strained social relationships.

Why Do People Get Addicted to Gambling

When problem gamblers play casino games for real money, they lack self-control in the face of any gambling opportunities — even when they can’t afford to lose. In other words, they struggle to maintain responsible gambling habits. Gambling transforms from an entertaining pastime into a necessity, and lack of access leads to a fixation on finding it.

But what causes the addiction in the first place? Is it genetic? Is it because the person is suffering from poor mental health? Studies show there’s usually a mix of factors at play. 

The science behind gambling addictions insists that genetics play a role in the development of problem gambling behavior and other addictions. Studies also show that most gamblers seeking help for gambling addiction have lower impulse control than the general population. There’s also evidence to suggest that people with untreated mental health conditions, like ADHD, anxiety, and depression, are more likely to develop problematic forms of gambling behavior. That’s because it’s easy to use gambling as a coping mechanism for stress and other emotional struggles. 

Ultimately, compulsive gamblers take unnecessary risks and often continue to make bets no matter how detrimental the habit has become. Although from an outsider’s perspective, it can be difficult to spot the signs of gambling addiction and problem gambling, there are several signs to look out for that apply to all forms of gambling.

How To Identify Problem Gambling

So, how can you tell if you or someone close to you needs help with a gambling addiction? 

Most medical experts won’t look at factors in isolation. The broader picture matters most, specifically in terms of finances, social life, and quality of life. You don’t have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler, and placing bets every day doesn’t make you a problem gambler either. Similarly, although a well-off individual can afford to play more frequently, that doesn’t mean they have a problematic habit.

That said, if you recognize any of the following general indicators, consider seeking help for the treatment of gambling addiction.

Secrecy

If a stranger asks you whether you often play casino games, would you feel the need to be dishonest? Problem gamblers often hide their habit from others, associating discovery with guilt, embarrassment, and judgment. The mere thought of being caught causes anxiety, leading to serious psychological repercussions when left to fester.

Compounding Losses

One of the clearest signs of troubled gambling is financial difficulty. When a gambler feels compelled to continue playing despite mounting losses, even online casino games with the best odds are going to be more costly than they’re worth. Because the house always holds the advantage, you have to know when to walk away. 

Concerned Friends and Family

If the people you spend time with are expressing concern over your betting habits, take them seriously and try not to get offended. It’s a sensitive topic that tends to elicit negative reactions from compulsive players. This doesn’t need to happen. The awkwardness of these exchanges can easily be countered through mutual respect and understanding.

Effects of Problem Gambling

According to the International Center for Responsible Gaming, recent studies show that up to 10% of gamblers display signs of addiction, and approximately 2% of the U.S. population is addicted to gambling. When you factor in the significant influx of players from popular formats like online slots, that percentage translates to thousands of players gambling when they shouldn’t be.

For example, when you’re playing a casino dice game, every 10th player is potentially a problem gambler. That’s a startling statistic when you put it in perspective, and it becomes even more significant when you understand how drastic the consequences of bad habits can be.

Problem gamblers can experience a range of financial issues and relationship troubles. In extreme cases, desperation to maintain betting habits can lead to unemployment, mounting debt, and even criminal activities. 

Factors Contributing to Problem Gambling

One of the main reasons problem gambling goes unnoticed is the absence of physical symptoms. Unlike substance abuse, there’s no direct threat to physical well-being, and the obvious signs only appear when a serious problem has already developed. Still, you can recognize the early warning signs by knowing the catalysts for addictive tendencies.

Accessibility

Live dealer casino games and other digital formats have become highly accessible. All you need to get started is a smartphone with an internet connection, which makes it all too easy to fall into the trap of gambling too often. Newcomers should keep a close eye on how long they play and set limits on how much they spend.

Mental Health Issues

As mentioned, high comorbidity is a frequent characteristic of addictive behavior. What this means is that individuals with preexisting conditions such as ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder are more likely to indulge in irresponsible gambling, often with substance abuse as an accompanying factor. 

Influence

The bad gambling habits of friends and relatives can contribute to the growth of addiction problems. Whether through peer pressure or observation, exposure to these habits can occur from a young age, creating a cycle of behavior. To overcome “cyclical addiction,” gamblers should do their utmost to learn from the mistakes of others. 

Tips for Gambling More Responsibly

So, aside from setting a bankroll and monitoring how often and how long you play, what can you do to ensure more responsible gambling? 

Firstly, if you’re a new player, understand that you’re likely to experience “beginner’s luck,” which can leave you feeling more skilled or lucky than you actually are and tempt you into placing unrealistic bets. 

It’s also a good idea to practice what’s known as “pre-emptive regret” whenever placing a bet. This approach means imagining the worst-case scenario if you were to lose that bet and how it would make you feel. It’s a simple exercise but a powerful deterrent, encouraging you to evaluate the true risk vs. reward.

Other excellent tips include the “10x rule,” which involves setting aside 10x the amount you win every time you gamble and considering that amount untouchable. This creates a buffer against future losses and helps you to benefit from your wins in the long term.

Lastly, be sure to celebrate and reward yourself for achieving non-gambling milestones like saving a certain amount of money, or reaching a fitness goal. This reinforces positive behaviors and breaks the association of rewards with gambling.

Responsible Gambling With BetMGM

Gambling is a form of entertainment that needs to be enjoyed responsibly, with limits to how much you spend and how long you play. Register at BetMGM Casino where you can play the best and most popular games with the help of responsible gambling tools like time-out and self-exclusion features. 

And remember to call the National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-GAMBLER) for assistance if you ever notice any signs of gambling addiction in yourself or a friend or relative.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.