Each week, and often each day, we read stories online shared by people who have experienced a problem with their gambling. This comes in many forms, from people of all walks of life. Addiction does not discriminate, and anyone can become more deeply involved than they ever thought possible. Sometimes we are told that players are noticing their problems spiral at a time when they can take a break, get the incident under control, and reassess their experience and emotions. Other times, players look back upon the preceding months or years, noticing that they have had a negative experience, perhaps finding themselves in increasing debt, with nowhere left to turn. At all times, honesty should be the only policy when it comes to our gambling habits.
Gambling Affects Our Brains
No one person is worse or better than the other. Gambling addiction, more widely regarded now as a Gambling Disorder, can affect any player worldwide. Gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system that responds to natural rewards such as food, or sexual stimuli. Dopamine is released during gambling, and repeated exposure to gambling can cause lasting changes to the brain. As a type of neurotransmitter, Dopamine is used to send messages between cells, and often called a chemical messenger. Dopamine helps us to feel pleasure, think, plan, strive, focus, or find things interesting. Often, we don't notice it until there's a problem.
Too much or too little dopamine can cause severe problems. Gambling can cause a sudden and vast increase of dopamine within our brains, which of course satisfies our natural reward system, but repeated experiences like this can increase the threshold within our brains for this kind of pleasure. For drug users, this means taking in a larger quantity of drugs for the same high, and for gamblers this directly correlates to the age-old fear: having to raise our stakes and take more risk to experience the same enjoyment.
These pathways that are stimulated become more sensitive, enhancing our cravings to repeat the activity that previously stimulated them. Perhaps most importantly, repeated exposure to gambling over a course of time can change how our brains respond to losing too, with some research suggesting that even losing at a certain point can release dopamine, encouraging our brains, and by extension ourselves, to continue to play as we feel as though we have been, and might continue to be, rewarded. This research points directly to repeated exposure to gambling being responsible for “chasing your losses” as our brains' reaction to these events leads us to believe this is the most sensible route to take.
Healthy vs Unhealthy
All this might seem confusing to consider, but one thing is clear – there is a chemical reaction that occurs inside our brains when we take risks or receive rewards. This is, in essence, exactly what gambling is: risk for a chance of reward. This chemical reaction is the same reaction triggered by some of the most addictive things widely available, like alcohol, drugs, sex and food. Now, just as some people will have a healthy relationship with alcohol or food through their life, many millions of players worldwide every day experience a healthy relationship with their gambling. They keep their stakes affordable, set deposit limits, and take regular breaks to ensure the rush is not something they have become dependent upon.
Healthy habits are habits that we feel comfortable being honest about. If you have a healthy relationship with your gambling, you should be comfortable talking about winning and losing. If you find yourself continually lying about your gambling habits, and find that you share your wins with other people, but not your losses, you may have a problem that you should examine.
What is important to remember, however, is that often it becomes more difficult to notice a problem as you watch and experience from the inside. It is in many ways easier to spot warning signs from an outsiders’ perspective. Being wholly honest about your gambling habits, wins and losses with the people you know and trust can help you to keep tabs on things from this outsider perspective. The people you’ve chosen can help to hold you accountable to the actions and decisions you make.
Accountability and Honesty
One of the first signs of a Gambling Disorder is lying about the amount of money you spend. Second, is lying about how often you gamble. Another sign of a Gambling Disorder is “chasing your losses”. This means trying to recoup some of your losses, potentially by upping your chosen stake or depositing more. Sometimes, this feels as though it can pay off, but it is important to remember this is just luck. Having a trusted friend or family member to discuss this with can help. They can be the person to point out some problems you are starting to exhibit, even though you may be on a winning streak.
They can also point out if your decisions weren't the right thing to do in the first place. Having someone for accountability can also be a helpful tool if you have self-excluded or already taken a break. To have someone that you can go on this journey with is helpful, as a confidante and trusted friend.
Need to Talk?
If you need to talk, there are a multitude of options that you can look into, no matter the circumstance. Even if you just want someone to discuss your gambling activities with to ensure you remain in control. Alternatively, if you are in the middle of a break after a bad run help is available. Or, if you have self-excluded and want someone to help you along the hard road ahead, the community of gamblers is huge both within Hideous Slots, the UK and worldwide. There are a number of options to consider:
Check out the Responsible Gambling area of our Forum. Here you’ll see a list of resources and information on Gambling Disorders. There is also an area the Forum to speak to other members about your gambling.
Visit BeGambleAware for more information.
Visit GamCare for information, support and advice regarding gambling.
Call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133
Visit European Casino Association for a list of Helplines, Help Centres and Self Exclusion Portals
As always, if your gambling has reached a point where you feel you can no longer control it our recommendation is GAMSTOP. When the fun stops, stop. More information on Gambling Disorders and early signs is available here or visit GAMSTOP to self-exclude for a period of up to 5 years.
Even if you don't feel like you “need” to talk to someone, we continue to encourage open and honest conversations. This goes for both the wins and losses, and everything surrounding gambling.
Honesty should be the only policy.
When the fun stops, stop. Visit BeGambleAware.org for more info.