Characteristics & consequences


4- Characteristics & Consequences of Gambling Addiction


Gambling addicts attach many different positive attributes to money, such as power, comfort, security and freedom, yet they fail to recognize that the odds to win are stacked against them and that gambling puts them at risk of losing everything. People who have become addicted to gambling seem to loose their sense of reality and logic. They may gamble all their money away even when they have won. This page describes the factors that may lead a person to develop a gambling addiction and its most common consequences.


  • Types of gamblers
  • Characteristics of gambling addiction
  • Consequences of gambling addiction


Types of gamblers

  • No one becomes a gambling addict overnight. Like any other type of addiction it’s a condition that develops and progresses over time. There is no one specific cause leading a person to become a pathological gambler. Rather, it’s a combination of psychological, social and biological factors that can lead to its development. There are, however, elements that increase the likelihood that the individual will develop a gambling addiction, including schizophrenia, mood problems, and antisocial personality disorder and substance addiction. Individuals who have a low level of serotonin in the brain are also thought to be at higher risk of developing pathological gambling. For many of these addicts, gambling isn’t so much about the money they might win as it is about the excitement, experiencing the rush or ”high” that comes from it. It has been observed that perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a potential gambling addict is for that person to win money their first time gambling. That first win creates in the mind of the gambler a transfixing goal, something they reach for again and again. Much like a drug addict, gambling addicts are chasing that first euphoric feeling and will try time and time again to recapture that same initial high despite adverse consequences. The gambling world abounds in stories of men and women from good homes, with good educations and solid jobs losing everything to gambling. They lose again and again — and yet are unable to stop. Though the gambler experiences the consequences of his addiction, such as losing his family, being fired from his job, or ruining his finances, he fails to recognize this behaviour as the cause of all his problems. Gambling addicts develop a form of insanity wherein they cannot differentiate truth from fantasy. Like all other addicts, they tend to live in denial of their condition. They genuinely believe next time they will win, that they will recoup the money lost, that they will hit the jackpot and their lives will improve and their problems will disappear.


  • In areas such as the West where gambling is more socially acceptable and there are a wide variety of ways to gamble, such as on horse racing, at casinos, the lottery, dog races, etc. this type of behavior addiction is more prevalent. In the Middle East, and religious based cultures, where gambling is considered a sin and shunned about, there are less types of gambling people can engage in and so this type of addiction is less widespread. Yet with the spread of the Internet and the availability of online betting, nowadays everybody is exposed to gambling. As with any other addiction, the hallmark sign of a gambling problem is that you feel you cannot control it or stop it. If you feel like you need to try just one more time, or if you feel anxious when you think about quitting, it is highly likely you are suffering from a gambling addiction.


Not everyone who engages in a form of gambling has developed an addiction towards it. There are generally three types of people who gamble as described below:



1. Social Gambler

Social gamblers consider gambling to be a valid form of recreational activity, and maintain full control over the time, money and energy they spend on gambling. They enjoy the activity and consider it as a way of entertainment. They can live with or without this type of activity and can stop it whenever they want.


2. Professional Gambler

Professional gamblers depend on games of skills rather than luck to make money. They tend to enjoy the mental challenge of games such as chess or poker and tend not to engage in gambling activities such as lottery or horse racing which are based on luck. Professional gamblers have full control over the time, money and energy they spend on gambling and view it as a stimulating and engaging form of leisurely activity.


3. Chronic or addict Gambler

Chronic gamblers use gambling as means to escape from or cope with their life problems. Gambling is not a leisurely activity but their means to feel good about themselves. Chronic gamblers use gambling much the same way an addict uses drugs – so that they can feel euphoric/ “high”, powerful and confident. Once these types become addicted to gambling, they can never go back into being the social or professional gambler. A Chronic gambler has lost the power to control or stop his behaviour on self-will alone and will continue with this behaviour despite adverse consequences.


For further information on the criteria that distinguishes a person to have developed the disease of addiction, be it to substances or behaviors, please refer to: Disease of Addiction: Chronic Addicts




Characteristics of gambling addiction

  • Exactly what causes someone to gamble pathologically isn’t well understood. Like many addictions, gambling addiction may result from a combination of biological, psychological, spiritual and or environmental factors. Like other behavioural addictions, gambling addiction is a controversial idea. Many people do not believe gambling constitutes an addiction, believing that there has to be a psychoactive substance like heroin or cocaine that produces symptoms such as physical tolerance and withdrawal, for it to be a real addiction. Yet recently, scientists and mental health professionals decided to classify problem gambling as a behavioural addiction, the first of its kind, putting it in a category of disorders that also includes substance abuse. Gambling addiction is the only behavioural addiction included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and is classified as an “Impulse Control Disorder,” where the “essential feature is the failure to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others”. The reason for this classification comes from neuroscience research, which has shown that gambling addicts have a lot in common with drug and alcohol addicts, including changes in behaviour and brain activity. Pathological gambling refers to the uncontrollable urge to gamble, despite serious personal consequences. This kind of behaviour addiction can impact a person’s interpersonal relationships, financial situation, and physical and mental health.


  • Many of the diagnostic criteria for gambling addiction share features with those for drug dependence, such as tolerance, withdrawal, repeated unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit, and major interference in one’s life. Pathological gamblers also report cravings and highs in response to gambling. Pathological gambling also runs in families, alongside other addictions. There is greater likelihood of someone becoming a gambling addict if other family members suffer from other addictions.  There may be some common genetic or brain differences in people who are more inclined to develop addictions as research shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward-seeking behaviours.


  • Much of the research that supports classifying gambling disorder with other addictions comes from brain imaging studies and neurochemical tests. These have revealed commonalities in the way that gambling and drugs of abuse act on the brain, and the way the brains of addicts respond to such cues. The evidence indicates that gambling activates the brain’s reward system in much the same way that a drug does. The ventral striatum, located deep inside the brain, has been termed the brain’s reward centre, and it’s been implicated in reward processing as well as substance abuse. When people with gambling disorder watch gambling videos or participate in simulated gambling while their brains are being scanned, scientists can see changes in blood flow in specific brain areas, indicating which areas are more active. In one study, both problem gamblers and cocaine addicts watched videos related to their addictions while in a FMRI scanner and both groups showed diminished activation in the ventral striatum compared to healthy control participants. Pathological gamblers also show less ventral striatum activity during simulated gambling games and during the anticipation of monetary rewards than did people without gambling problems. While the finding that problem gamblers have lower activation in reward pathways may seem counterintuitive, some scientists think it can be explained by what’s known as the reward deficiency model. They argue that people prone to addiction have an underactive brain reward system and that such people are drawn to ways to stimulate their reward pathways, which can include the highs of drugs and gambling.


  • The other brain region that is often implicated in gambling and substance use disorders is the prefrontal cortex. This region is involved in decision-making, controlling impulsivity, and cognitive control. Several studies have shown that problem gamblers and drug addicts both showed less activation of the prefrontal cortex in response to gambling-related cues. Given the role of the prefrontal cortex in reward evaluation and delayed discounting, where people make decisions about choosing an immediate small reward versus a later, larger reward, the findings seem to suggest that individuals with gambling problems may have differences in functioning in this brain region. Many studies have shown that people with gambling addiction are more impulsive than other people. They may have difficulty controlling their impulses due to reduced activation of the prefrontal cortex.


  • The evidence from brain studies points to many shared characteristics of gambling disorder and other addictions. Pathological gamblers resemble drug addicts, not only in their behaviour, but also in their brains. This has led to a new understanding of addiction: What used to be thought of as dependency on a chemical is now being defined as the repeated pursuit of a rewarding experience in spite of serious repercussions. That experience could be the high from a drug or the high of winning a bet, because behaviours can be addictive, too.


Though there are no specific factors that have been scientifically proven to lead a person to develop gambling addiction, below some of its prevalent attributes have been described.



1. Comorbidity

People who gamble pathologically often have substance addictions, mood or personality disorders, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many gambling addicts abuse alcohol and or drugs, suffer from other types of behaviour addictions and many experience major depression. In addition medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome and those which are called dopamine agonists, have a rare side effect that results in compulsive behaviours in some people, including gambling.


2. Hereditary

Those whose parents and or primary caregivers suffer from a type of addiction, are at a greater risk of developing an addiction towards gambling. Gambling addiction is also more common in men than in women and with younger and middle-aged people. Women who gamble typically start later in life, are more apt to have depression, anxiety or bipolar disorders, and may become addicted more quickly. But recently with the development of Internet gambling, the patterns among men and women have become increasingly similar.


3. Impulsive

Chronic gamblers incline to be impulsive people who lack healthy copying strategies on how to deal with life problems. They tend not to have developed healthy ways to cope with and manage their feelings.


4. Risktaker

Certain personality traits such as being a risk taker, highly competitive, a workaholic, restless or easily bored may increase the risk of a person developing a gambling addiction.



Consequences of gambling addiction

Similar to other addictive disorders, nearly every aspect of a chronic gambler’s life can be affected by continued gambling. Some of these consequences are categorized and described below.




1. Biological consequences

1- Neurobiological imbalance The gamblers responses to reward, impulsivity, learning and self control get effected due to the neurobiological processes of the brain and the body.


2- Stress Chronic stress due to the nature of engaging in a high-risk activity can lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcer disease, and exacerbation of baseline medical problems.


3- Sleep deprivation Chronic gamblers tend to suffer from sleep deprivation. Playing or betting for hours or days at a times can lead to their on their motor and cognitive impairment, mood liability, and immunological deregulation.


4- Co morbidity Chronic gamblers are at a higher risk of developing substance and or other behaviour addictions.


5- Food disorders Chronic gamblers tend to suffer from food disorders. They tend to bing eat, have higher-than-expected obesity rates and use food as the means to cope with the stress brought about due to their pathological gambling.


6- General health Chronic gamblers are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, possibly overeat, be sleep-deprived, and suffer from higher levels of acute and chronic stress. Together, these consequences of pathological gambling may dramatically impact the morbidity and mortality of pathological gamblers.



2. Psychological consequences

1- Personality disorders Pathological gambling can directly trigger or worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessions, and personality disorders.


2- Mood disorders Mood disorders are frequently seen in chronic gamblers with comorbidity rates as high as 75 percentages. Pathological gamblers tend to suffer from symptoms of hopelessness, guilt, shame, and desperation and have high suicide rates.


3- Anxiety Pathological gamblers tend to suffer from anxiety disorders. Their stress level is constantly high for they are either in anticipation of their gambling behaviour or anxious because of the win or loss they have made.


4- Obsession Pathological gamblers tend to be obsessive. They demonstrate what is called the “chasing behaviour”. Chasing refers to a gambler who will repeatedly return to recoup losses, usually within the same day. There is a desperate urgency to recover losses immediately; to not do so results in a feeling of intense anxiety, fear, and worry. In turn, this creates even more generalized anxiety, creating a cycle where the gambler is focused entirely on relieving this anxiety through more gambling.


5- Impulsivity Pathological gambling can also directly affect certain personality constructs, such as impulsivity. As they experience the consequences of their gambling, their financial, work or family life gets affected; they resort to gamble even more in order to escape their life problems.


6- Defence mechanisms Pathological gambling directly influences the expression of primitive defense mechanisms. These include avoidance, acting out, rationalization, denial, minimization, and intellectualization. Chronic gamblers tend to suffer from guilt; shame, low self worth and self esteem and lack healthy coping skills.


7- Cognitive distortion Chronic gamblers tend to suffer from cognitive distortions. What is referred to as a type of insanity in 12 step programs, these addicts tend to have a warped sense of reality and logic when it comes to their gambling. Fantasies of success, control, and an internal need to prove their self-worth by beating the competition are some of the cognitive distortions that makes these addicts hang on to the false hope that gambling will solve all their problems through the “big win.”



3. Social consequences

1- Financial Financial losses and accumulating debt are the most obvious and visible consequence of pathological gambling. Unlike other addictions, pathological gambling can devastate the addict’s life in a matter of hours. Loss of life savings, debts, bankruptcy, use loan sharks, illegal tactics and criminal activities are a prominent feature in a chronic gamblers’ life.


2- Family The effects of pathological gambling on family dynamics and functioning can be devastating. High divorce rates, domestic violence, stealing from loved ones, lying and manipulations are some of the consequences suffered not only by the addict but more so by his family members. Often family members find their lives in total physical and psychological chaos as a result of their loved one’s pathological gambling.


3- Hereditary Most pathological gamblers were exposed to gambling growing up and often are taught early on how to gamble by their family members. Family studies have shown that the risk of developing pathological gambling is much higher due to a combination of the environment and hereditary factors.


4- Work Pathological gamblers tend to spend large amounts of time gambling, thinking about gambling, or covering up the consequences of gambling. The overall costs to society, lost productivity and time are thought to be even more significant consequences than financial losses. Chronic gamblers are more likely to steal, cheat or loose time at their work place. Lateness, absenteeism, decreased productivity; embezzlement and finding future employment difficult are some of the consequences associated to the employment of a pathological gambler’s life.


5- Legal Many chronic gamblers resort to crime and illegal activities to fund their gambling habit. They may resort to stealing, prostitution, embezzlement, insurance fraud, and the use of loan sharks to pay off their gambling debts. Around 57 percentages of chronic gamblers have admitted to committing some sort of crime to fund their habit. 


6- Violence Many chronic gamblers resort to violence as a consequence of their addiction. The combination of the consequences brought about as a result of their pathological gambling has led many to commit acts of violence. Some chronic gamblers end up in prisons or become homeless. Whilst others finding their life completely unmanageable, end up on the brinks of insanity or commit suicide.


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