Science Behind Gambling Addiction

7 min read
Author
Anna Kravtcova
Anna Kravtcova
Problem Gambling Expert
Fact checked by:
Paruyr Shahbazyan
Founder
Last Updated: May 27, 2024, 3:48 PM

The Complex Reality of Pathological Gambling

When you are watching sports and placing bets, there are some fascinating physiological and psychological processes going on in your brain. Gambling addiction is a significant problem, so let's try to understand exactly how our behavior changes while betting.

Take a look at some interesting fundamental experiments conducted by a famous behavioral psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner. He proved that there is a connection between a stimulus and a reaction to it.

  1. His study of rats’ behavior demonstrated that the most powerful addiction is formed at the point it fails to receive a desired reward having already received one – as is the case with gamblers winning and then losing a bet. If you keep winning, gradually dopamine levels will decrease and the game will become boring for you.
  2. Another experiment resulted in rats eventually dying by constantly pressing a pedal, which caused a discharge of electricity which stimulated the pleasure center of their brain (1).

These experiments show that if our internal and external limiters stop working, we run the risk of developing problem gambling behavior.

Nature has provided us with limiters – special areas of our brain responsible for self-control and regulation of emotions, such as fear and anxiety.

At a certain point, as long as you continue to make regular bets, you may become more dependent on the area of the brain which provides the dopamine rush than the area for self-control and anxiety, and this can lead to problem gambling behavior and addiction.

Few people know, but in fact dopamine is not a hormone of happiness. It is actually a hormone of anticipated pleasure, which means that this neurotransmitter is at its peak while waiting for your bet to win, and then subsides when your bet is played, regardless of the outcome.

Consequently, as the rush declines there is a sense of apathy, leading you to make even more bets regardless of whether you have won or not. As a result, you stop enjoying the game, despite placing further bets that only temporarily relieve the negative feelings caused by declining levels of dopamine (2). 

How To Determine That You Are Currently At Risk?

There is a special assessment test for problem gambling behavior in the form of scales (3)  such as “Social consequences”, “Financial consequences”, “Damaging behavior”, “Signs of depression” and “Compulsive disorder”. Let's have a closer look at them.

Financial consequences:

  • Lack of a transparent planning and spending budget;
  • Debts and their constant increase;
  • Inability to fulfill one’s financial obligations (loan payments, utility bills, etc.) due to the impossibility of forecasting cash income.

Damaging behavior:

  • Causing harm to others or yourself, including physical, which can be expressed by scratching the skin, pulling out the hair, etc.

Signs of depression:

  • Long-term state of apathy;
  • Feeling distressed;
  • Lack of energy and reaction to pleasant events, as if nothing provides any enjoyment.

Compulsive disorder:

  • Disturbing obsessive thoughts, often provoking irrational behavior.

Using these criteria, you can determine whether you are presently experiencing problem gambling behavior. If you notice that you’re showing some of these signs, then you should immediately stop gambling and seek specialist for advice.

Check If You Display Signs Of Problem Gambling

Below you will find a list of indicators by which you can understand whether you are at risk. Use it as a self-assessment test.

  • The bettor needs more and more money to bet in order to experience more excitement and adrenaline rush.
  • There is a feeling of anxiety and irritation when there is no access to gambling.
  • It is difficult to interrupt the game and take a break.
  • Obsessive thoughts about betting or how to fund betting.
  • Betting as a way to get away from anxiety and depression.
  • Chasing losses.
  • Lying about the frequency of gambling.
  • Gambling is becoming more important than actual job or study.
  • Encouraging other people to place bets.

If you find yourself with more than three signs, then you should discuss this with a psychologist.

How To Avoid Falling Into Problem Gambling Behavior?

  • Carefully study the rules of the game esp. hidden commissions and other terms.
  • Check the license and reputation of the operator you want to gamble with.
  • Do not gamble when tired, upset, anxious and vice versa in excitement and euphoria.
  • Remember that alcohol, drugs and medications impair judgment, which will affect your decisions.
  • Financial management: determine the amount you can spend on gambling without borrowing or using money intended for other purposes.
  • Time management: determine the time you can spend on gambling, take breaks from the game, gamble at such a time of the day when you do not feel exhausted.
  • Never try to chase a big loss.
  • Discuss your gambling with your loved ones and a psychologist so that they can give feedback if something appears to be wrong;
  • remember that the chances of winning are not so great, there is always a risk of losing.
  • Do not rely on superstitions.

If you feel that you are not in control of the situation, isolate yourself from the game by using a self-exclusion tool.

Scientific research also shows that the most effective method of preventing problem gambling behavior is self-control and personal responsibility of the player (4).

To improve your mood and be filled with the right energy, focus on producing “hormones of happiness” (5).

References

Sources
History
B.F. Skinner
1938
​​The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313181463_The_behavior_of_organisms_-_Skinner_BF
Li, H., Mao, L.L., Zhang, J.J. et al.
2012
Dimensions of Problem Gambling Behavior Associated with Purchasing Sports Lottery.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/50251344_Dimensions_of_Problem_Gambling_Behavior_Associated_with_Purchasing_Sports_Lottery
Ariyabuddhiphongs, V.
2013
Problem Gambling Prevention: Before, During, and After Measures
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257691557_Problem_Gambling_Prevention_Before_During_and_After_Measures
Loretta Graziano Breuning
The Habits of a Happy Brain
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQAAUQtj8-o

Meet Our Authors

Paruyr Shahbazyan began his business career in 2000 as a private entrepreneur. Over thirteen years, he developed a deep understanding for business and leadership, laying a solid foundation for his professional journey.

In 2013, Paruyr stepped into the sports and betting industry as the founder and president of Bookmaker Rating. This online mass media platform, which he led until 2020, focused on providing in-depth analysis and insights in sports betting, earning a reputation for its quality content. 

Continuing his innovative approach in 2022, Paruyr co-founded Azuro, a decentralized betting protocol. This venture showcases his dedication to integrating advanced technology in the evolving landscape of sports betting. Through these diverse experiences, Paruyr has continuously influenced and shaped the betting industry, driving new trends and setting high standards.

 ExperienceYear
Engaged in private entrepreneurship2000-2013
Founder and President at Bookmaker Rating, an online platform focused on sports and betting2013-2020
Co-founder at Azuro, a decentralized betting protocol2022

"Innovation in sportsbetting comes from a deep understanding of both technology and the human element of sports." 

- Paruyr Shahbazyan, Founder, RG

 

Principles and Ethics

Paruyr Shahbazyan's core beliefs lie in the power of informed decision-making and integrity in the betting industry. He understands that the foundation of successful betting is not just about odds and predictions, but also about the trust and reliability of the information provided. Paruyr advocates for a betting environment where transparency and knowledge are paramount, ensuring that bettors are well-equipped with accurate data and insights.

Strategic Vision

Paruyr's vision is to revolutionize the sports betting industry through the integration of technology. He sees the future of betting as a blend of traditional sports knowledge with innovative tech solutions, like decentralized protocols, to enhance user experience and fairness. His aim is to create platforms that are not only user-friendly but also uphold the highest standards of ethical betting, contributing to a more responsible and enjoyable betting culture.

Future Perspectives

Looking towards the future, Paruyr envisions a betting landscape that is more inclusive, technologically advanced, and globally connected. He anticipates a significant shift towards more decentralized and transparent betting systems, driven by blockchain technology. Paruyr is committed to being at the forefront of this change, continuously exploring new possibilities and innovations that can redefine what it means to engage in sports betting in a digital world. His focus is on building systems that prioritize user empowerment, fairness, and the global growth of the sports betting community.

 

Sol Fayerman-Hansen
Sol Fayerman-Hansen
Editor-in-Chief

Sol's interest in sports was sparked at a young age, inspired by athletes such as Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky. This early fascination evolved into a deep-seated passion, guiding him toward a career in sports journalism in 2007. Over the years, Sol has contributed thousands of articles and reviews to dozens of online platforms, sharing his research, knowledge, and perspectives.

“In the world of sports betting, truth is more valuable than any bonus offer.”

ExperienceYear
Content Manager, OnlineCasinoReports2012-2021
Sports Journalist, Dottraffic2009-2011
Content Writer, HouseTech2007-2009
Cristina Varela Galan
Cristina Varela Galan
Problem Gambling Expert

Cristina used to work as a Psychology Assistant in the Bizkaia Pathological and Risky Gamblers Association. She was also part of a research team in Deusto University, specializing in pathological gambling area. While working there, she managed to develop her own project 

 “Exploring the association between emotional regulation, alexithymia, stressful life events and gambling in adolescent and young adult women”.

Nick Ashbourne
Nick Ashbourne
Senior Writer

Nick has been fascinated with sports since he was first taken to a Toronto Maple Leafs game back in 1998, and he's written about them professionally since 2014.

Nick has covered baseball and hockey for outlets like The Athletic, Sportsnet, and Yahoo Sports, and his sports betting expertise has grown since its legalization in Ontario in 2022. 

Between 2022 and 2023 he worked for a betting startup called NorthStar Bets, and in 2024 he contributed to Oddspedia before joining the Responsible Gambling team.

Anna Kravtcova
Anna Kravtcova
Problem Gambling Expert

Ph.D. in organizational psychology, an internationally certified psychologist (EuroPsy 2022, Cognitive behavioural therapy of mindfulness 2020, International Society for Emotional Intelligence 2017, Russian Psychological society 2014, American Psychological Association(Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologist) 2011), speaker of many international conferences (USA, Brazil, Portugal, Czech Republic, Russia, etc.). TEDx speaker.

Mike made the decision to dive headfirst into the booming world of sports betting fresh out of college. Back in the day, when 1-800 pick lines and sports pagers were all the rage, he couldn't resist the allure, having grown up idolizing sports legends like Sweetness, MJ, and Slammin Sammy. Mike dedicated his early years to the industry, tirelessly analyzing games, writing articles with free picks, and selling his expertise on reputable handicapping sites. Unlike many others, Mike was known for his integrity and only released one Game of the Year per sport, per season. His hard work and unwavering commitment paid off, earning him a devoted following and propelling his career to new heights. Then came the explosion of Daily Fantasy Sports. Believe it or not, companies like DraftKings and FanDuel used to pay Mike's company to increase their brand exposure. Now, those same industry giants don't even bother responding to his emails. While Mike appreciates the convenience of being able to place legal bets in his own backyard, he can't help but feel disheartened by what has become of the industry. People are being led astray, falsely believing that a mere $5 wager on a 20-team same-game-parlay will be their ticket to financial security. If there’s one thing Mike learned from making book back in the day, it’s that parlays are a bookie’s best friend. A bankroll is the only leg you have to stand on in the battle with the books, and Mike’s here to offer up advice on how to protect it.

Mark Medina
Mark Medina
NBA Reporter

Mark Medina is a longtime NBA reporter that includes stints as a Lakers blogger with The Los Angeles Times (2010-12), Lakers beat writer with the Los Angeles Daily News (2012-17), Warriors beat writer with Bay Area News Group (2017-19) as well as an NBA reporter/columnist for USA Today (2019-21) and NBA.com (2021-23). Medina is also an NBA insider with Fox Sports Radio and frequent contributor to CBSLA's SportsCentralLA with Jim Hill and with Spectrum Sportsnet.

Daria Tuboltseva
Daria Tuboltseva
Hockey Journalist

Daria went to St. Petersburg State University and earned a bachelor of international journalism. Working as a sports journalist from 2014, from 2016 as a hockey journalist. Covered 5 World Championships, 2022 Winter Olympics, 2020 World Juniors, 6 Gagarin Cup Finals. 

Owner of a telegram channel Coolest Game on Earth.

Integrative nutritionist specializing on sports nutritionology.