The Lowdown: Is Gambling Really as Addictive as Drugs and Alcohol?

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All over the world, across various cultures, gambling is widely popular. It may come in many forms, and yet, casinos the world over continue to be popular hot spots. The shiny and hypnotic slot machines, the captivating movements of poker dealers, the neon signs and opulent surroundings, plus the lure of that jackpot–all these provide the perfect formula for attracting people from all walks of life.

lowdown gambling addictive drugs alcohol

For a majority of people, gambling provides them an effective means of recreation, a way to unwind and socialize. However, there are those who have crossed over to what we can describe as pathological or problematic gambling, or in other words, gambling addiction.

What is Gambling Addiction?

Experts list three main symptoms of gambling addiction, namely:

  • poor control over gambling activities
  • prioritizing gambling over other routines
  • persistent gambling despite harmful consequences

However, the World Health Organization released the first version of ICD-11, which featured the official, clinical definition of gambling disorder. This new handbook lists gambling disorder, 6C50, under two different categories, Disorders due to addictive behaviors (along with drugs and alcohol), as well as Impulse control disorders (along with pyromania and kleptomania).

Symptoms of Gambling Disorder

Meanwhile, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), have drawn parallels between gambling addiction and drug addiction. In fact, treatment for both have the same approaches.

Furthermore, gambling disorder is identified using these 12 symptoms. According to experts, one only has to have 4 of these 9 symptoms in order to be diagnosed with a “persistent and recurrent” problematic gambling behavior.

  • Needing to gamble with more money to get the same excitement from gambling as before.
  • Feels restless or irritable when trying to reduce or stop gambling.
  • Keeps trying to reduce or stop gambling without success.
  • Gambling is frequently on the person’s mind — both reliving past gambling experiences and planning future gambling events.
  • Gambles when feeling depressed, guilty or anxious.
  • Tries to win back gambling losses.
  • Lies to cover up how much they are gambling.
  • Loses not only money, but also relationships, their job, or a significant career opportunity as a result of gambling.
  • Becomes dependent on other people to give them money to deal with financial problems that have been caused by gambling.

Still Many Debates Surrounding Problematic Gambling

However, many addiction experts also argue that gambling addiction changes the brain’s cchemistry similarly as substance addiction. This is particularly true in the so-called reward system of the brain.

According to Luke Clark, a psychologist who conducted studies on brain imaging and neurology in connection to addictions, there are two parts of the brain that are highly effected. One is the ventral striatum, which is the reward center of the body. It showed that there’s less responsiveness from this area, which may been due to the addictions. Next is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control and decision-making. This part of the brain also has decreased activities in gamblers, addicts, and alcoholics, as compared to with healthier people who don’t engage in substance abuse and addictive behaviors.

These and more studies highlight the argument on which came first: the brain abnormality or the compulsive behavior.

This said, there are still continuous studies being done to settle the debate once and for all. Meanwhile, gambling is still becoming more and more recognized as an addiction and professional treatment is at the fore in addressing this.

However experts define gambling, however, one fact remains: compulsive gamblers suffer along with their families. It is undeniable that professional treatment is necessary, and facilities such as Bridges of Hope have been treating compulsive gambling, with high success rates.


To find out more how you can get help for a problematic gambler in your life, talk to us at Bridges of Hope: 09175098826.

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