Pathological gambling may not be a drug ... but it can be just as damaging.
Although a gambling addiction doesn’t have the same devastating effects on physical health as alcoholism or an addiction to tobacco, pathological gambling is similar to these substance addictions inasmuch as it is characterized by an irresistible desire to feel the emotions related to money and gambling. Dependence on games of chance, whether online or in person, can have significant consequences for the affected person’s social and professional integration.
Games of chance are those characterized by activities in which players make bets whose potential benefit is left to chance, such as poker, blackjack, roulette, slot machines, bingo, and many others, which can be played online or at real casinos.
People addicted to gambling have a strong psychological dependence that results in an uncontrollable urge to gamble. When they cannot engage in this activity in one form or another, they can become violent, and can even experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those of drug addicts.
Kinds of gamblers
- Social gamblers: For them, gambling is simply an opportunity to socialize and have fun.
- Problem gamblers: These people try to find a solution to their social problems through this kind of entertainment.
- Pathological (impulsive and dependent) gamblers: For them, the impulse to gamble becomes an uncontrollable necessity accompanied by strong emotional tension and a partial or complete inability to think reflectively and logically. This kind of person is inclined to destructive behavior that is often fed by other grave psychological problems.
Risk factors for gambling addiction
Many studies have tried to identify the risk factors for dependence on games of chance that turn people into impulsive gamblers. Among others, these factors include:
- Biological aspects: These are principally related to neuro-physiological factors, that is to say, a possible imbalance in the system of neurotransmitters in the brain, causing the production of serotonin (the brain chemical responsible for affective behavior and balance) to fall below the normal level.
- Aspects related to environment and upbringing: The environment and upbringing received by people who later develop a dependence on gambling is often characterized by problematic situations, often including an overvaluing of money and equating wealth with happiness. Consequently, the presence of financial difficulties, such as unemployment, is a risk factor for heading down the road of compulsive gambling.
- Psychological aspects: Gambling addiction seems to be related to personality traits of lust and covetousness, as well as a perceived need to be able to show control over chance events as a symbol of greater than average control over the world at large.
We will continue to discuss the symptoms and treatment of pathological gambling in an upcoming article.