How Gambling Affects the Brain


Gambling is the wagering of something of value (money, property, or other items) on an event with a random outcome. It is most commonly done with a coin or dice, but can also be done with cards, numbers, or other objects that have value. In most cases, the gambler hopes to win something of value in exchange for the risk and effort involved. This type of activity is often addictive and can result in significant financial losses, family problems, job loss, and legal issues.

A new brain-imaging study has found that compulsive gambling affects the reward and motivation centers of the brain. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, suggest that the disorder shares common biological roots with other substance-related addictions and could help to guide treatment and prevention efforts.

The study, led by psychiatrists from the University of Massachusetts, analyzed brain scans of participants as they were performing various tasks and playing casino games online. It found that the areas of the brain associated with rewards and motivation were significantly more active during the gambling sessions than when subjects were not gambling. In addition, the regions that control emotion were less active.

Other researchers have found that adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for people to develop a gambling problem. It is also common for the disorder to run in families and may be influenced by factors such as trauma, poverty, and social inequality. It is estimated that about two million Americans have a gambling problem and for many it interferes with their work and social life.

Several types of therapy are used to treat gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Some people who have this condition also benefit from group therapy and family therapy, which can improve their relationships with loved ones. In addition, people with gambling disorders can benefit from financial counseling to learn how to manage their money.

Some people who have a gambling problem are able to stop their behavior by themselves, but for most, professional help is needed. Therapists who specialize in treating gambling disorder can offer individual and group therapy, as well as teach skills to manage their finances and reduce their reliance on gambling. In some cases, patients may also need to be treated for mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can cause or worsen gambling problems.

The first step in overcoming a gambling problem is admitting that you have one. It takes courage and strength to admit that you have a problem, especially when it has cost you money and strained or destroyed your relationships with family and friends. It’s also important to get support from others who have overcome this disorder. Consider joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. You can find a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience staying sober and can provide guidance. You can also seek out marriage, career, and credit counseling to deal with the specific issues caused by your gambling problem.