Addictive drugs and gambling rewire neural pathways in the same ways

A lot of people think gambling addiction is not a real (or very serious) addiction because it doesn’t involve substances and some of the physical symptoms aren’t as obvious. Neuroscientists have now learned that both gambling and using drugs, like cocaine, alter many of the same brain circuits in similar ways.

“I don’t think people view gambling addiction as seriously as they would an alcohol or drug addiction”

Poker machines in particular cultivate addiction by teaching the brain to associate the sounds and flashing lights that are displayed when you “win” – with pleasure. And because the pattern of wins, or rewards, is random, the “reinforcement” of the link between the stimuli and pleasure is much stronger than if it was predicted.

The opposite of addiction is human connection
Many scientists and writers are now proposing that the opposite of addiction is human connection. It is suggested that there a fundamental problem with our modern society is that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from each other. It is believed addiction often happens when we try to fill a (connection) need that is not being met. It is suggested that if we can build a system that helps people with addictions to reconnect with other people and the world around them, this can help.

Stopping is not always easy
Those who face gambling addiction do not find stopping gambling all that easy. Many people struggle to control their gambling, often trying many times to stop before being successful, and despite wanting to stop. Like with other types of addiction, some people can continue to remain vulnerable to problems with gambling in the future, especially without support.

People we interviewed said that understanding more about addiction (their own addiction, or a friend or family member’s addiction) helped them a lot in addressing the harms they faced from gambling

Gambling addiction affects young Australians
Up until very recently, young people weren’t exposed to gambling as much as they are now, there are more poker machines, and placing a bet is much easier to do. Most people have a smartphone, which lets you bet anywhere, anytime.  Additionally, a lot of advertising targets young people, especially online and on social media, as well as on personal devices (e.g. text messages).

Our survey of 18-30 year olds in the ACT showed 9% of participants believed they have or had a problem with gambling.

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