Impact of Addictions
Gambling, while seemingly unharmful, is increasingly becoming a problem across the world. Addiction to gambling (problem gambling/disordered gambling/pathological gambling) is a cause for worry to the society given its resultant effects on the individual and the society, and the number of people affected by the addiction. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 2.2% of the adult population have a gambling addiction that requires treatment, while Britain’s estimate stands at between 0.5% and 0.9%. (Bowden-Jones, 2017). There are theories fronted to explain addiction (gambling as part of addiction), the dopamine reward system, and genetic factors theories among them. The theories, provide an understanding of the root causes of addiction. Aside from the neurological and biological impacts of gambling, its socioeconomic impacts warrant delving into it to find its root causes and offer possible solutions.
The dopamine reward system is one of the theories that explain the causes of addiction. The theory is part of the neuroscientific cluster of theories, which front an understanding of addiction through a comprehensive analysis of the effects of drugs on the brain (Keiflin & Janak, 2015). According to the theory, the dopamine system is a core pathway in the brain reward system. Substances such as alcohol and behaviors such as gambling easily stimulate dopamine levels. The use of substances including alcohol and nicotine helps in the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway (Keiflin & Janak, 2015). The release of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway generates a “happy” feeling, which then reinforces the brain’s need for the feeling, essentially grounding addiction.
In contrast, genetic factors theory, as part of the larger biological factors’ theory argues that addiction is inherited. Keiflin and Janak, (2015) review show that studies on genetics as the cause of addiction point to inheritance as the cause of addiction. Numerous studies in their review have shown that children with alcoholic parents are more likely to be alcoholic in comparison to those whose parents are sober (Keiflin & Janak, 2015). The studies show similar effects on other substances such as cannabis and cocaine. Noteworthy is that while the studies show familial clusters in the addictions, they do not account for environmental factors as possible causes of the additions and not necessarily genetic.
Concern for gambling centers on the neurological and biological impacts of the behavior. According to Fong (2015), gambling activates the brain’s neural activities, particularly the mesolimbic pathway, which leads to addiction. By activating the brain’s neural impulses towards the activity, gambling essentially causes the individual to be addicted to the behavior as the neural responses reinforce the gambling addiction. The neurological responses to gambling easily affect the psychological state of the individual triggering or worsening anxiety, obsession, personality disorders and depression (Fong, 2015). Moreover, gambling additionally triggers mood disorders, sometimes making it difficult to differentiate between primary and secondary depression.
Gambling additionally impacts the body and the brain, increasing the release of dopamine into the brain. According to Fong (2015), a comparison of compulsive gamblers and control groups showed a huge difference in the brain dopamine levels between the two, compulsive gamblers having higher levels. Yet the chemical alterations are not the only cause for worry for gamblers; Kerber et al. (2015) informs that the long hours of gambling without food or sleep have a negative biological impact, particularly on the general health status of the individual. Fong (2015) warns that chronic stress that accompanies compulsive gambling easily leads to physical consequences including hypertension, peptic ulcers, and cardiovascular diseases, which when unchecked can easily cause death.
In most countries, gambling is traditionally legal. According to Fong (2015), only Utah and Hawaii have not legalized gambling. The legalization of gambling has greatly impacted gambling, increasing its participation to close to 80% of the population (Fong, 2015). Legalization and a television culture of televised poker tournaments greatly increased gambling in the US. However, its legality has had a great consequence for the participants. According to Caler, Garcia, and Nower (2017) Blacks are twice as likely as Whites to be disordered gamblers. This is perhaps entrenched through the American societal makeup, where Blacks are disproportionately poor, and therefore seek get-rich-quick schemes, which gambling traditionally offers.
While the neurological and biological consequences of gambling impact the mental and physical health of the gambler, the effects extend to intimate and familial relationships. Socially, gambling causes increased crime, financial loss, bankruptcies, and emotional hardships that spouses and family members have to deal with. Bramley, Norrie, and Jill (2018) posit that gambling can have a debilitating impact on the gamblers’ intimate and familial relationships. Fong (2015) informs that the rate of divorce for gamblers stands at 53.5% in comparison with non-gamblers (18.2%). At the center of such high rates of divorce for gamblers are factors such as emotional aloofness, deception, and financial debts. Gamblers can easily put a partner’s (and family) at financial peril spending earnings, savings, and in extreme case take loans on partner or family property without consulting the partner.
While financial peril is perhaps the most visible impact of gambling for gamblers’ intimate relations, it is not the only one. Fong (2015) informs that pathological gamblers’ intimate partners and families are traditionally at risk of domestic violence. Spousal and child abuse are common among pathological gamblers. The abuse is infused in the chaotic situation the gamblers create, coupled with substance abuse, comorbid psychiatric conditions, and mood instability.
Gambling additionally has familial impacts with devastating future impact. While most families find relief in discovering their loved one is only addicted to gambling and not substance abuse, gambling indeed impacts family functioning. The disappointment, loss of trust, and withdrawal from the gambler greatly impact family dynamics (Bramley, Norrie, & Jill, 2018). Having a family member that is a gambler greatly increases the chances of developing future gamblers within the family. Both environmental and hereditary factors play a role in the development of future gamblers in a family with a problem or pathological gambler.
Addiction traditionally follows a model. For gambling, the disease model easily explains it. According to Hokemeyer (2015), as an addiction (and therefore a disease) gambling involves chemicals and human biology, is progressive, chronic, and when untreated, has debilitating consequences. The factors of gambling make it a disease, due to its attributable characteristics to genetic predisposition and the possibility of its exacerbation by environmental factors. The model, therefore, calls for the formulation of quick remedy at the onset of the addiction, and a multidisciplinary approach at advanced levels of the addiction.
The rising number of gamblers and gambling’s impact on society continues to increase the attention towards gambling as a form of addiction. The dopamine reward system and genetic factors theories offer pathways to understanding gambling as a form of addiction. The societal impacts of gambling including familial, financial, and biological consequences on the gambler call for more attention on gambling. It is important to be on the lookout for signs of such addictions among family members, provide treatment as soon as possible, while at the same time providing productive means of entertainment.
Bowden-Jones, H. (2017). Pathological gambling. BMJ: British Medical Journal (Online), 357 doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1593.
Bramley, S., Norrie, C., & Jill, M. (2018). Gambling-related harms and homelessness: Findings from a scoping review. Housing, Care and Support, 21(1), 26-39. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/HCS-02-2018-0003.
Caler, K. R., Vargas Garcia, J. R., & Nower, L. (2017). Problem gambling among ethnic minorities: results from an epidemiological study. Asian journal of gambling issues and public health, 7(1), 7. doi:10.1186/s40405-017-0027-2
Fong T. W. (2015). The biopsychosocial consequences of pathological gambling. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 2(3), 22–30.
Hokemeyer, P. (2015). What is the disease model of addiction? Maryland Addiction Recovery Center. Retrieved from https://www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com/what-is-the-disease-model-of-addiction
Keiflin, R., & Janak, P. H. (2015). Dopamine prediction errors in reward learning and addiction: From theory to neural circuitry. Neuron, 88(2), 247-263. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.08.037
Kerber, C., Adelman-Mullally, T., Kim, M., & Astroth, K. S. (2015). The impact of disordered gambling among older adults. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 53(10), 41-47. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20150923-03.