Whether it’s a problem with alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, the phenomenon of addiction in Scotland, stems from the same process in our brains; a rewiring of neural circuits that creates a feedback loop of reward.
It is only relatively recently that addiction to gambling has come to be understood in the same clinical terms as chemical addictions to substances and many healthcare providers now recommend treatment for gambling addiction that operates in a similar way to treatment for substance abuse.
As with alcohol and drug addiction, gambling addiction often comes with a degree of stigma and a lack of awareness amongst the general population of the reality of both the problem and treatment options.
Problem gamblers will often describe winning a bet as giving them a ‘high’, similar to that which a drug user might experience.
Our brains have a predisposition to make us chase good feelings, and as such a feedback loop is formed whereby the ‘rush’ or ‘high’ of winning at gambling forces us to alter our behaviour to chase that feeling again and again.
A drug user who abuses substances regularly will no longer feel the same levels of euphoria from their substance of choice over time, turning to higher doses or stronger drugs to reach their high.
Similarly, problem gamblers will not be satisfied with the same levels of risk and reward indefinitely, usually turning to higher stakes and gambling more and more money to chase the ‘euphoria’.
A warning sign of problem gambling is the feeling of needing to continue to gamble and take financial risks in order to recover gambling losses.
In fact, chasing losses is one of the most significant indicators of problem gambling, even when other signifiers are not present. So, gambling to recover losses from gambling is both a symptom and a cause of the addiction.
Why some Scottish people and not others?
So, this brings us to the central question – why do some people who gamble succumb to addiction and not others?
Well, as with alcohol and drug addiction, one important element is sadly one that is beyond our control. Studies have revealed that lower impulse control is often a genetic predisposition over which you have no direct control.
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In short, if you have a history of addiction in your family, then genetically you are more likely to be unable to control your gambling impulses without support or treatment.
Social situations also contribute to understanding why some people are more susceptible to problem gambling. If you either experience high levels of stress or social or financial adversity, then you are more likely to tip over from responsible to problem gambling.