Is gambling a pleasure or an addiction?

12/16/2012

pig and casino chipsGambling, like sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and shopping, has been constantly criticized for being addictive in nature and encouraging an unhealthy dependency if left unchecked. It is an easy thing to get addicted to anything that’s pleasurable, and that also includes something as ordinary as food. The key, as the cliché goes, is to do everything in moderation- save for the obvious exceptions like recreational drugs.

Gambling every once in a while may not seem like a big deal, but a dependence on such behaviour can give rise to what has been termed as ‘problem gambling’, pathological gambling, or ludomania. The good news about ludomania is that about a third of all gambling addicts are able to get rid of their addiction within one year. The bad news is that ludomania can wreak havoc on people’s finances if not checked in time, and a small percent of cases have resulted in severe depression and extreme steps like suicide.

Various research studies over the years have established changes in brain activity during gambling. For instance, a study conducted by Dr. Hans C. Breiter from Massachusetts General Hospital revealed players who anticipate a win at a roulette table have the same brain patterns as those who take drugs that induce a sense of euphoria. The higher the amount which is at stake, the greater and more pronounced such activity in the brain.

Gambling entices many people to come back to it even after they lose many times in a row, because the human brain attributes more pleasure to winning money than earning it. This ‘stimulation’ becomes a cycle and also increases dopamine levels in the brain.

Although pathological gambling has addictive effects and can negatively affect a person’s personal and professional life, it has been classified as an impulse control disorder rather than a full-blown addiction by the American Psychiatric Association.