17 June 2009

Addicted to gambling?

I am off to Ascot tomorrow and asked a friend what I would need to do to place a bet. 10 minutes later, having learned about odds and betting “each way” or betting to lose, she admitted she had an online account with a betting agency and regularly nips into a well known high street betting shop. She said it was the thrill of the win that kept her going back and it got me thinking about addiction to gambling.
 There is mounting evidence from brain studies that behavioural addictions are very similar to chemical ones. According to addiction specialist Eric Nestler of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical centre in Dallas, drug addictions and “natural” addictions seem to involve shared pathways in the brain. The brains of sex or gambling addicts all show the same responses and reactions to the abuse of drugs. Addictive drugs cause dopamine release in the brain, triggering a desire to keep taking them and it is now known that some behaviours such as gambling act on the same reward system. When addicted, gamblers keep gambling and the occasional dopamine rush of winning overrides their conscious knowledge that they will lose in the long run.  I guess that behavioural addictions will only increase in the next few years – not everyone will try an illegal drug or have a flutter on the horses, but most of us use computers and many more people are playing interactive games or gambling online. People in today’s society have lots of opportunities and abundance but of course this is completely different from the scarcity in which our reward systems evolved. According to Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania, we are putting these systems into overload – and the only thing that stops us is self constraint. He offers a powerful quote “if politicians and leaders understood how the brain works, they would not be building society as they are doing”.
I will try to keep that top of mind as I experiment with a little flutter tomorrow, whilst exercising self constraint of course.

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