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Home > Gambling > Gambling Guides > The biological components of problem gambling

The biological components of problem gambling

What is problem gambling?

Widely considered as a psychiatric disorder, problem gambling is essentially any behavior directly related to gambling that harms both the gambler and the people around them. Symptoms of problem gambling include spending more money to gamble than one can repay, an inability to stop gambling, concealing excessive gambling habits from others, and avoiding one’s responsibilities in order to gamble. The consequences of problem gambling can be severe; such people often become bankrupt, lose their jobs, and they commonly end up in jail. According to www.gambleaware.co.uk, the current estimated number of adults in Britain with a gambling problem is 590,000.

What are some of the causes of problem gambling?

Problem gambling is a complex issue because although the disorder is primarily a mental one, it’s aggravated and triggered by various biological factors. Studies in the United Kingdom have shown that problem gamblers often have a family history of pathological gambling behavior or begin to gamble at an earlier age than most. This evidence suggests that a person can have a genetic predisposition to gambling abuse.

Problem gamblers rarely have gambling as their only addiction; drug and alcohol addictions are also commonly found to contribute to the problem. Just like drug addiction, problem gambling also falls into the category of impulse control disorders. Other comorbid biological factors that may precede pathological gambling include symptoms of any personality disorder, mood disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD.

While no one can predict the onset of problem gambling, studies have discovered that some people are more at risk to develop this tendency than others. Men are more likely to display a gambling addiction in their younger years, while women are more likely to gamble excessively in their later years. Workaholics and those who have a highly competitive nature also have higher chances of becoming addicted to gambling.

What are the biological consequences of problem gambling for your body?

Compulsive gambling significantly alters the neurobiological processes of the brain in a way that’s very similar to prolonged substance abuse. Psychiatry MMC reported that problem gamblers have evidence of abnormal levels of dopamine and serotonin in their brain tissues, and these neurotransmitters affect an individual’s sense of reward, self-control, learning abilities and impulsivity.

The amount of physical and emotional stress that results from prolonged compulsive gambling leads to serious chronic stress conditions such as peptic ulcer disease, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, among others. Such gamblers have an excessive amount of stress hormones like cortisol in their bodies, and it’s not uncommon for pathological gamblers to die in casinos from stress-related heart attacks after a gambling streak that continued for days without sleep or food.

The combination of regular sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, high stress and other frequent side effects of problem gambling significantly impairs a person’s ability to make good decisions. As the brain chemistry also becomes unbalanced further over time, gamblers suffer from depression and typically become suicidal or bipolar.

While anti-depressants and other medications can help problem gamblers during recovery, it’s important that problem gamblers also seek the professional support of qualified counsellors in order to recover fully. Anyone seeking free, confidential advice about problem gambling can call the U.K.’s National Gambling Helpline at 0808-8020-133. For links to more support centers that provide debt and problem gambling counselling in Britain, visit http://www.gambleaware.co.uk/confidential-support-and-advice.

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