How Does Gambling Affect Your Brain?

Since the advent of COVID-19, the number of online casino gamblers has increased substantially. Multiple online casinos, gambling applications, and service providers have sprung up to cater to the increased number of players. More people are inclined towards gambling remotely and prefer playing in isolation. However, this isolated gambling does have significant effects on the brain. Consider this: you're gambling from a room of your house with no interruption. You regularly end up spending unlimited hours without realising the money you invest in betting, the time you spend, and, more importantly, how you disturb your mental health. 

Let's unveil how gambling affects your brain in the long run. We will also navigate fundamental ways to avoid any potential addiction in your gambling experience thanks to the responsible gambling mechanisms and discuss ways to manage and treat gambling addiction.

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This page is written by
Farah Jassawalla
Farah JassawallaResponsible Gambling Specialist
Fact checked by
Rebecca Mackay
Rebecca MackayHead of Content
According to our Editorial Guide

What are Potential Changes in the Brain of Gambling Addicts?

To comprehensively understand how gambling behaviour impacts the brain, let's explore some research studies. Researchers have investigated two potential brain areas directly linked to gambling habits. These areas are known as the ventral striatum and prefrontal cortex. 

Studies show that the ventral striatum regulates the reward system of the brain. It is involved in operating pleasure, emotions and feelings of happiness. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex controls decision-making and regulates brain activity in problem-solving scenarios. It is also involved in controlling the personality traits of people and the repercussions some particular actions bring. The prefrontal cortex also controls behaviour.

According to research, in gambling addicts, these two areas play vital roles. People with gambling disorders suffer from impulse control. The activity of the prefrontal cortex reduces to a greater extent. This reduction in prefrontal cortex activity leads to a lack of concrete decision-making in gambling addicts. The problems gamblers face include low tolerance levels, discomfort, and chronic emotional instability. 

Further studies have shown that the brain excessively employs a reward system in gambling addicts. This means they fail to experience a similar level of pleasure and addictive behaviours urge them to keep craving more success. The study of brain psychology has also revealed that gambling addicts show impulsivity and they exhibit a lower potential to wait for late rewards. The prefrontal and ventral disorders in the brain regions later cause negative feelings. These changes in the brains of gamblers are major reasons for increased compulsivity. You may also observe gamblers' withdrawal from friends, family, and social life after falling prey to an addictive gambling problem.

Can Gambling Lead to Brain Disorders?

Gambling can lead to addiction and, ultimately, brain disorders. Studies on gamblers have shown that when playing, the portion of the brain that involves habit sections is more activated than usual. This indicates that the brains of gamblers who are addicted to playing at online casinos exhibit an overuse of certain chemicals. 

Chemicals such as serotonin, which control the cycle of sleep and moods, reduce faster in gambling addicts than in normal people. To cater to this deficiency, and for mental satisfaction, gamblers often fall for drug addiction and other substance abuse problems. 

Additional research indicates that gamblers playing roulette have overly activated visual systems. They watch the ball closely, wanting it to stop on their selected colour, thus intensifying the brain's activity. Gamblers are also overly charged from an emotional perspective. Gamblers with such intense visual and emotional states are more prone to brain disorders in the future than those who don't gamble as often. Modern slot games also have very flashy colours on the reels that can over-stimulate punters' pleasure centres.

Incentives Used to Lure Addicted Gamblers

Many players become addicted to gambling due to the attractive offers these gambling platforms and service providers feature. 

Bonuses and lotteries

In both land-based and online casinos, bonuses are a great way to lure more gamblers. Gambling establishments offer you a certain bonus if you deposit a particular amount of money into their casino or games. Their criteria include multiple offers and percentages. For example, some casinos offer 80%-100% at-large upon depositing a certain amount. Some casinos also offer wagering requirements of 20x-40x.

Under the lure of earning more bets, spins, or bonus points, gamblers often make wrong wagering decisions and ultimately lose their money. Ideally, gamblers should understand the nature of gambling bonuses and the strategies behind them before betting. Once understood, they can consider going for a bonus. These casinos often play with gamblers' minds by conducting attractive lotteries that often cause more harm than good.

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Attractive betting offers/ wagering chances

Many casinos in the gambling industry showcase betting offers to tempt people. Just like other bonuses, they highlight match bonuses. These strategies commonly work better with beginners. However, even experienced gamblers sometimes fall for these tactics. 

For instance, a casino service provider offers you a match bonus equal to your deposit if you sign up and bet on their service. Initially, gamblers feel excited about their deposit being doubled. However, players who lack knowledge of the gaming industry don't know that these wagering offers cost more than the average potential earnings.

Free spins/ gifts

While playing roulette and slot machines, gamblers often get free spins for real money. Free spins and gifts also affect the brain. Sometimes these spins turn out lucky, but if gamblers do not win, they crave more free spins. These near misses and cravings result in spending more money. Gamblers get addicted to investing a lot in these games, and addiction ultimately ruins their financial stability. 

These losses from expectant "free" rewards also cause serotonin levels to fall. Gamblers fall for alcohol and other drug addictions to compensate for this deficiency. However, the results are less than ideal, which leads gamblers into a deeper hole.

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How to Recover from Gambling Addiction

The gambling industry is huge, and with online gambling, it's quite impossible for some to completely avoid it. However, the practice and awareness of responsible gambling strategies can reduce gambling addiction to a significant extent. 

If you're a gambling addict, the best way to manage your condition is to resist your desire to gamble all the time. Try to think less of the winnings, spins, and match bonuses. You can start doing so by blocking gambling websites from your devices. Easy access is a major factor in people dwelling on addiction, so reduces opportunities to encounter gambling. 

Responsible gambling

There are websites in the market featuring gambling advertisements for free online experiences. So, if you are worried about using your desktop for work, consider blocking gambling platforms. You can also keep yourself busy with other productive tasks to ignore the urge to play. You can also try convincing your mind to play after some time. Understanding the value of money is also helpful in ceasing gambling. 

Online casinos have been coming up with top-notch graphics to lure more audiences. However, be vigilant and do not spend your hard-earned money when you are not in a position to afford substantial losses.  In case you are still suffering from the issue of addiction, the ideal way is to seek medical assistance. Remember that gambling addiction is a recognised medical disorder. A specialist in the field can help you alleviate addiction and withdrawal symptoms through medication, behavioural strategies, and lifestyle changes.

Our Verdict

Gambling gives rise to risk factors such as brain disorders and overuse of different parts of the brain. The frequency of differences between the brains of normal humans and addicted gamblers is high. The review of scientific findings and tests provides evidence of dopamine release outcomes and reward pathways in the brains of addicts. 

Gambling addictions play a negative role in social and family relationship building. There are signs of health problems and mental risks in gamblers. The prefrontal cortex enables the brain to make decisions that are affected by gambling. Blocking gambling sites, staying busy, and developing a positive environment can help increase the probability of recovering from gambling addiction. In addition, gamblers must get medical treatment to combat the addiction if they face severe mental issues.


What part of the brain does gambling affect?

Gambling can affect the functions of the prefrontal cortex or ventral striatum in the brain. The ventral striatum helps in the activation of the reward system. The prefrontal cortex operates dopamine release and cognitive functions of the brain. Furthermore, gambling also over-activates visual systems in the brain, which can cause damage to it.

What happens to your brain when you gamble?

While gambling, the brain activates and releases dopamine. Dopamine makes gamblers happy and super excited about their wins. However, when a gambler suddenly loses out on an expected reward, the brain still releases the pleasure chemical, thinking it's winning.

Can gambling cause brain damage and other health problems in the body?

Addictive gambling can cause serious health issues due to the different brain parts involved in gambling activities. Gambling may also cause mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, migraine, stress, difficulty sleeping etc. It can also damage emotional health and visual systems. Physical issues include intestinal disorders and back pain. Gambling's damage to the brain's pleasure centres can also force addicts to seek drugs to fulfill their addiction.

Can gambling change the brain?

As gambling changes the behaviour of people, the change also affects the brain. Addicts can suffer from the overactivation of multiple chemicals in brain areas. Excessive dopamine release can cause distress and anxiety. Similarly, it also impacts the ventral striatum and overlooks the reward system.

The author is a seasoned writer who has been working independently for over 7 years. Farah Jassawalla is our responsible gambling specialist. She has a passion for providing the latest ...continue reading

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