Am I a compulsive gambler? What really is compulsive gambling? Is it an addiction like cocaine or heroin?
To truly understand compulsive gambling, you need to take a look at the brain. Simply put, there are a number of hormones that are released in the healthy brain that create endorphins that make you feel good. People who are prone to addiction have a deficiency of these hormones, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. For people with an imbalance in the brain, the “rush” that gambling creates actually mimics the release of these hormones in the brain, and makes the person feel good.
However, the feeling that gambling may produce in the brain, is not real, and it definitely is not permanent! The momentary ‘high’ that gambling produces will always result in a crash that will leave you feeling worse then when you started. In order to feel better, desperately, you will gamble again, and again. Only to be let down, over and over. Does this sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone!
Because compulsive gambling mimics a feel good feeling in the brain, it is very similar to other addictions. Just as with alcohol addictions and hard drugs such as cocaine, compulsive gambling is an addiction. But is the brain the only thing to blame when it comes to gambling? Of course not. There is more at work, than the physiology of the brain, but it is an important component.
Money is an important part of compulsive gambling; however it is not the only thing. Many people believe that gambling is all about winning money, and earning back what you have lost, but that’s not true at all. People who are addicted to gambling are addicted to the feeling that gambling provides. The thrill of winning, the feeling of power, of greatness! As was just explained, compulsive gambling is much more about a feeling than the money.
So if gambling is about a feeling, how is it that compulsive gambling is considered an addiction? Someone who has a gambling problem faces some of the same troubles as an individual with another, more identifiable addiction. The addict cannot stop gambling, despite the fact that they know they should, they live with broken lives, families falling apart and debt problems. Compulsive gamblers live in denial as they chase the big win trying to recapture the ‘high’ that they once felt gambling.
Compulsive gambling is a hidden addiction; it is not as easy to identify someone with a gambling problem as someone who is an alcoholic. So how do you spot someone with a gambling problem? How can you be sure if you or someone you love has a problem? And why is compulsive gambling really a problem? In the next email, I’ll outline symptoms to watch for in compulsive gambling.