A lot of people may draw the conclusion that gambling addicts are greedy, weak-minded or lack discipline. The key to understanding how gambling addiction occurs is through understanding how our own instinctive inner-workings operate, which the gambling industry knows all too well.
This page will explain how anybody can become a gambling addict through the manipulation of a brain chemical called dopamine, and how this can and often does lead to devastating effects on a human being.
It will also explain why extending the stake limits on fixed odds betting terminals is very dangerous. (Some MP’s are in support of this, some are against)
For this example, let’s say we took ten people that had never really gambled heavily before, and placed them on fixed odds betting terminals to play roulette. Each one of the ten people starts with the same small stake amount of £10 and they all spend twenty minutes playing. They are all told the odds are against them but it is possible to win something.
From the ten people playing, five people lose, two break even, two win £10 each, and one wins £200 surprisingly.
As expected the five people that had lost most probably wouldn’t return to the machine voluntarily afterwards, and the chances are that the two people that had broken even wouldn’t have a strong urge either.
The two that won £10 each are likely to play again as they know they can win, but not as much as the person winning the unexpected £200. For this example we will call the lucky £200 winner Mr. X.
For Mr. X, his brain will never be the same again, because of new neurological pathways that are installed into his brain circuitry since having the unexpected win. This is done by a method called “variable learning re-enforcement”, which is adopted by the gambling industry.
During his win or wins, Mr. X has a massive surge of dopamine occurring in his brain. This specific surge of dopamine will affect how his brain makes vital decisions in his life from this point on.
The reason for this is because the release of dopamine is an important part of our learning systems.
We get releases of dopamine when we eat, exercise and make love to our partners, amongst many other things in everyday living.
This is to tell your brain how to remember to survive. It is what drives us go to work, and to cook our meals because the very first time we received our first pay-packet or cooked our first meal, we got some sort of rewarding pleasurable feeling. This is dopamine doing its natural work in the brain and from those points on it will play its part “driving” you to your destination so to speak.
The dopamine neurons are titillated because it now knows the pattern and knows it’s on its way to a reward. There are often small peaks of dopamine levels in everyday life, and with natural learning based systems it is perfectly healthy.
So what happens to dopamine levels in our brains when playing on fixed odds betting terminals?
When something as unexpected as a big win during gambling happens, dopamine levels go through the roof.
This is because since we were young our brain has learnt the desire for money. It has been engrained into our brain and because of the culture and system we live in; it often comes top of the list before food, sex and other actions of progression.
The problem with gambling (fruit machines and fixed odds betting terminals in particular) is that they disturb the cognitive functions of our brains, pretty much like a virus that infects a computers operating system.
Since Mr. X has had his big win, he probably hasn’t yet noticed that his brain has kept a track of his dopamine releases and has updated its records in order to have a better chance of survival.
Because a reward has been achieved and has been stamp-marked by the large surge of dopamine, his brain now registers gambling as a progressive action that is essential to his survival.
Usually in everyday life, actions that require the production of dopamine usually have predictable outcomes. Mr. X’s brain knows the pattern and releases small amounts of dopamine because it knows it’s on its way to a reward.
But often the reward doesn’t come for Mr. X so his brain is constantly producing excessive amounts of dopamine searching for the particular reward.
This is what causes people to become glued to fixed odds betting terminals for hours on end in betting shops. It isn’t merely just because their conscious brain wants to win money, but more the fact that their subconscious is following an engrained pattern and will keep a person doing the required task until it achieves the reward that the pattern is linked with.
Because gamblers on fixed odds betting terminals can find themselves playing these machines for long periods of time without the brain getting its desired reward, these machines are very likely to cause extremely excessive use of dopamine in the brain.
Typical effects of a person with an addiction to fixed odds betting terminals may include: loss of self-esteem, lack of motivation (mainly due to gambling taking over the mind), anxiety, negative thinking (due to constant negative cycles of losing bets), stress, family breakdown, job loss or continuous unemployment, learning difficulties and cognitive impairments, including many with symptoms similar to ADHD and bi-polar disorder.
Schizophrenia and many other mental health disorders are also linked with the excessive use of dopamine flooding the brain with symptoms, including hallucinations, delusion, disorganized speech, loss of pleasure, lack of humour, inattention, and self-care deficits.
MP John Whittingdale is currently trying to help promote the gambling industry by making press releases to the media stating that gambling is a “leisurely entertaining” thing to do. He currently seems to be in support of the gambling industry pushing to be able to have twelve of these machines in a betting shop rather than the current limit allowed by law which is four.