How Does Gambling Affect the Brain?

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BetMGM Aug 02, 2023, 4:21 AM

Some people love to shop, some love to eat, some to play sports and some just love to gamble. Whatever your favored pastime, we are all driven by the same thing and that’s the “feel-good factor” that stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine. If we can understand what causes certain behavior, in this case, how gambling affects the brain, then we are better able to manage our online gambling habits and how much time we spend playing casino table games.

The Physiology of the Brain

Essentially made up of the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum, the brain is a complex organ that ultimately controls our behavior and our emotions. Given its physiology, some people are more predisposed to gambling than others. In serious pleasure seekers, including gamblers, the prefrontal cortex will show decreased activity, resulting in a reduced capacity to exercise self-control that may lead to a compulsion to gamble. 

If there is a deficiency in brain reward pathways in the ventral striatum, this will cause people to seek out reward-based activities that gratify them. So in answer to the question, “Why do people gamble?” for many, it’s not about the money; it’s about the way the brain is wired.

When we undertake an activity that stimulates the production of dopamine, we feel good. All the activities we have mentioned – shopping, eating and gambling, among others – have the capacity to do this, so we go back to those activities again and again so that we can replicate that feeling.

But dopamine is like any chemical, natural or artificial. If we overuse it, we build up a tolerance and have to use more and more to get the desired effect. This is when any activity becomes something to which we can become addicted. 

Moderation from the outset of any activity can help avoid addiction later down the line. 

Why We Gamble

It’s not only brain activity that causes people to derive pleasure from online casino games. Sometimes other external factors send people looking for some gambling dopamine, so these can also contribute to how gambling affects the brain.

Some gamblers are seeking refuge from mental health issues, others an escape from everyday stresses. Some are under peer group pressure or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Youthful enthusiasm, before the brain is fully developed to manage logic and emotion, is often a driver of gambling or compulsive behavior. None of these are healthy reasons for gambling and seeking professional help is a good idea.

The best reason to gamble is that it’s fun and can be rewarding. And it’s not only the win; it’s also the near misses that keep us going. The feel-good stimulus when we nearly hit the jackpot is the same as the win. Or maybe you’ve always believed that if at first you don’t succeed, you should try and try again.

How the Brain Affects Our Behavior

We have seen that brain chemicals drive certain behavioral patterns. If we know what triggers those behaviors, we are better able to modify them, especially if they are detrimental to our health or our luck! Gambling’s effects on the brain include invoking the gambler’s fallacy. This is when we deceive ourselves into believing that what has happened in the past can determine the outcome of something in the future. For example, if your live dealer has dealt you an ace in every one of your last five poker hands, it doesn’t signify that you will be dealt one in the next game. 

Starting to look for patterns that don’t exist and making predictions that are impossible rather than acknowledging that gambling is random is another effect that gambling has on the brain. Casino online betting is all about random generated numbers (RGN,) so all you can do is weigh up the odds each time you gamble. Bringing cognitive bias to the table is allowing the brain to take over reason.

Recognizing the Signs

Regular gamblers will develop regular habits, some tics that they have either when they’re winning or losing, or both. If we exercise mind over matter, we can control what our brain is telling us and not fall victim to these potential giveaway behaviors. They don’t call it a poker face for nothing.

Managing Our Behavior

The brain is a highly adaptable organ and, like a muscle, can be exercised and trained to respond to our “instructions.” By consciously changing our behavior, we can change brain activity. By managing our time online, by managing expectations and our biases, we can avoid gambling taking over and controlling us.

It’s important always to practice responsible gambling, but if you believe you have a problem, it’s important to seek help.

Exercise Your Brain at BetMGM

If you’re ready to have some fun and release a healthy dose of dopamine, you can register at BetMGM to go online and play any number of live dealer casino games, online slots and more. And remember, no one can predict the outcome of any game of chance, but what you can manage, now that you know what to look for, is how gambling is affecting your brain.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.