What are the Psychological Effects of Gambling?

Jan 31, 2024

It’s no secret that sports betting is on the rise. It’s now legal in 37 states across the U.S., including Washington D.C., according to data from the American Gaming Association from 2023. Sports betting is just one of the many ways to gamble online. Gambling is easier than ever now and it’s accessible just about anywhere. You don’t have to walk into a casino to gamble. 

Accessibility to gambling continues to grow. Psychologists and mental health experts fear that it could lead to more gambling problems and gambling addictions. Gambling mostly targets young men and boys -- especially with sports betting and video game-based gambling.

However, gambling can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, sex, status, or income. Gen Z is more prone to gambling addiction, according to a 2018 Canadian survey from the government of British Columbia. When a person starts gambling at a young age, they have a higher chance of developing psychological problems. 

A major reason why most people gamble is the rush they get from winning. Those good feelings don’t last for long. If you find yourself losing money or feeling stressed about your financial future, you could have a problem. Help is available. The first step is to recognize the problem itself to get the help you need. 

Examining the risks of gambling

It’s important to be aware of the risks of gambling so you can recognize them in yourself or your friends and family. This prevents it from becoming a serious problem or addiction. Knowledge cultivates self-awareness so that you can replace gambling with a healthier outlet.

A combination of medication, support, and professional therapy can address these risk factors before they become a serious problem. According to Gamble Aware, studies show that certain types of gambling are more harmful and addictive than others. 

Online games that involve a sense of luck make it harder for people to track their money. As a result, they lose control of their life and financial situation. Other types of risky gambling include casino games, gaming machines, scratch tickets, and sports betting are also risky.  

The brain of a problem gambler

Gambling alters both the brain and your personality. To better understand the mind of a problem gambler, you should first understand how gambling affects certain regions of the brain. Two areas of the brain that are impacted by gambling are the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum, according to both human and animal studies

The prefrontal cortex is the region of the plan where you make plans, solve problems, and assess the potential consequences of a situation. It also develops your personality, including your beliefs and values. The ventral striatum is the area of the brain that reacts to receiving rewards and experiences positive feelings as a result. 

A problem gambler might struggle with their ability to make decisions. Instead, they seek out immediate gratification without realizing the consequences of their actions. The ventral part of the brain becomes less active as the gambler gets more addicted. Gambling addicts turn to other reward-based activities, such as casino games and sports betting

Common personality traits associated with problem gambling include chronic worrying, excessive shyness, low self-esteem, and persistent fears or doubts. You may notice they’re more negative than usual. Other factors that could change someone’s personality include impulsiveness and the inability to make goals or plans. The Mayo Clinic reports that those who become easily bored or are highly competitive are more likely to develop a gambling addiction. 

Complications

Problem gambling destroys every aspect of your life, such as your finances, work, relationships, and general health. You could face legal trouble or imprisonment if you resort to illegal gambling. Both problem and addictive gambling can wreak havoc on one’s emotional and mental health. 

Gambling causes mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Oftentimes, these personality disorders are a result of problem gambling. Problem gambling also causes you to stress and worry more about money and the future. 

Since it’s common for gamblers to hide their problem, they’re constantly worried about someone finding out. These mental health problems can also cause suicidal thoughts or tendencies. This stress on the body can deteriorate one’s health and lead to health problems, such as chronic fatigue, reduced physical activity, eating disorders, and poor sleep quality, as reported in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine

The Link Between Gambling and Depression

Gambling and depression are often interlinked. It’s like an unhealthy relationship in which one intensifies the other. Those with compulsive gambling habits struggle to make it through the day or complete their daily tasks. They also struggle to concentrate at work or school. 

If you struggle with depression, you might gamble to boost your mood, which ramps up the addiction. You’re desperate to experience those feel-good thoughts and emotions all the time. Certain personality disorders are at risk for gambling addiction, such as borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. 

Depression can also cause someone to seek out risky activities that aren’t their usual hobbies and interests. The gambling and depression statistics show that those who struggle with depression are more likely to turn to gambling to escape from their thoughts and emotions, according to the Journal of Gambling Studies. 

On the flip side, gambling can also cause depression. Gambling addicts experience depressive episodes from financial problems, strained relationships, and losses that make them feel hopeless. They go on a downward spiral, which only causes them to gamble more. It causes a fallout in their interpersonal relationships and increases the severity of their depression symptoms.  

How Gambling Affects Mood

Compulsive gambling causes cause anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and stress. It just doesn’t affect your feelings and emotions. It can also destroy your mental health. When you become addicted to gambling, other activities and interests that you once enjoyed no longer make you feel good. 

So, you return to gambling to achieve that same dopamine hit every time. Those with mental health issues are at greater risk of severe gambling. You might notice better every time you gamble to forget about your depression or personal issues. 

Gambling and Anxiety

Most people who gamble often feel anxiety. They notice that they have more anxious thoughts. Or, they will project their anxiety onto the moment they gamble. Slowly, gambling trickles its way into each aspect of your life, and those addictive feelings are so overwhelming that you don’t know how to quit.  

Managing your anxiety can reduce this compulsive habit. Thankfully, there are several ways to manage anxiety, such as breath control, replacement activities, relaxation exercises, and the practice of patience. Most of these practices fit under the scope of mindfulness, which helps manage your cravings and triggers. Mindfulness gives you greater awareness and more control over your life. 

Gambling and Stress

Gambling causes more financial stress if you spend more money than you intended. It can quickly eat away at your finances if you don’t manage your money or set limits. Over time, you could end up in debt and fall behind on bills. 

This can put a strain on your relationships as it leads to a loss of trust. Despite the high that you get from gambling, it’s not an effective way to cope with stress. Chronic gambling will only cause this problem to get out of hand. 

Learn to Manage Your Gambling Habit

Compulsive gambling doesn’t happen overnight. It slowly becomes a problem even if it quickly impacts your finances. There are some things you can do to prevent it from becoming a serious problem, such as relieving the urge and using mindfulness practices. 

Education and prevention programs can also create greater awareness and ensure people they’re not alone in their struggles. Unfortunately, these resources aren’t made available everywhere. People need to be aware of the psychological effects of gambling before it’s too late. 

If you find that you have a gambling problem, contact Birches Health to get the help you need. From there, you’ll learn about your options for therapy and treatment.  

Resources:

Interactive U.S. Map: Sports Betting

Understanding the Odds: Gambling Among BC Youth Aged 12 - 18

Understanding The Risks Of Gambling

Gambling disorder: an integrative review of animal and human studies - PMC (nih.gov)

Compulsive Gambling 

Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views

Depression Symptoms, Problem Gambling, and the Role of Escape and Excitement Gambling Outcome Expectancies

Compulsive Gambling and Anxiety

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