They say knowledge is power, and a lack of psychology knowledge is one reason people can feel so
powerless in the fight against addiction.
Gambling Disorder was included for the first time in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Since the release of the DSM-5 in 2013, gambling disorder
(also called problem gambling or gambling addiction) has received increased attention by psychology
Here are five recent findings that can help empower people who struggle with problem gambling.
1.Gambling Addiction Affects the Brain Like a Drug
It was once believed that gambling addiction was primarily a matter of impulse control, and caused
neurological changes similar to disorders like OCD. However, recent research supports a model of
gambling addiction as more similar to substance abuse – as though gambling were an actual drug.
Using this model of gambling addiction, scientists have found numerous parallels between gambling
addiction and substance abuse. An article published by Scientific American reveals that gamblers and
drug addicts share many underlying genetic predispositions for impulsive and reward seeking
Also, both gambling and drug addiction can directly cause the brain to produce less dopamine and
fire fewer electrical signals during a high, causing addicts to seek greater gambling risks or increased
2.Women Perceive Gambling Differently Than Men
While there is no doubt that gambling addiction causes physical changes to the body and brain, it is
easy to ignore social forces that contribute to the development of problem gambling.
Recent social psychology research supported the idea that women are generally more aware than
men of the negative social consequences of gambling, and thus more likely to stop a gambling
episode before problems arise. This finding may partially explain why female addicts generally begin
gambling in their 30s, whereas men are more likely to begin in adolescence.
3.Nearly Winning Reinforces Gambling Addiction
A recent article in the journal Neuropsychophramacology showed that almost winning can foster an
illusion of control that drives further gambling. The researchers showed that gambling addicts also
demonstrate increased neurochemical response in the ventral striatum – part of the reward pathway
of the brain – when they experience a near win.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often used for drug addicts, is frequently prescribed to problem
gamblers to combat the influence of the near win. Using CBT, gambling addicts learn to confront the
“Gambler’s Fallacy” that nearly winning indicates they are about to win, and means they should
continue to gamble.
4.Gambling Behaviour Changes Based On Your Mood
Participants in this study performed a task designed to simulate the experience of gambling.
Participants were first given €2000 of play money to gamble with. In order to succeed in the task,
participants had to make gut-level decisions on whether to take cards from one deck or another.
The researchers found that after losing money, participants who were in a bad mood were less able
to make decisions based on their gut feelings, and ended up losing even more money.
The researchers then repeated the study, this time manipulating mood. Participants watched either a
funny video clip from The Muppet Show, or a sad scene from Schindler’s List. The Schindler’s List
group lost more money than those who had watched the Muppets.
These experiments support the idea that being in a bad mood or experiencing something that puts
you in a bad mood while gambling can significantly impair your ability to make healthy decisions
about how much gambling to do, and when to stop.
5.Being Physically Motionless Can Help You Stop Gambling
Researchers have also taken an interest in effective strategies for controlling gambling behaviour. A
study published last year supported the idea that there is a motor component of compulsive
gambling. Anyone who has gambled is familiar with the physical urge to reach out one’s hand and
pull the slot machine lever or to click the “Deal” button in an online poker app.
Researchers demonstrated that introducing a “stop” signal, in which gamblers simply force
themselves to be physically still, can reduce the urge to continue gambling and lead to improved
outcomes of a gambling episode.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem, and increasing in prevalence in the UK, the United States,
and throughout the world. Psychology researchers are answering the call, and adding to our
understanding of how gambling addiction works.
By increasing knowledge and awareness, we can combat gambling addiction and help empower
people everywhere struggling with gambling disorder.
Marcus regularly blogs at psysci.co a psychology, science and health blog that examines the latest
research and explains how findings can impact and help individuals everyday lives.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.