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When does gambling go from being entertaining fun & games to a destructive obsession?

The short answer is when a person keeps gambling even after it stops being fun. Too much of just about anything can become a problem. Gambling is no different. It may seem counterintuitive, but pathological gamblers can get that “high” feeling even when they lose. They begin chasing losses just as one might expect a gambler to chase wins.


Here are a few of the differences between a person gambling for fun and someone suffering a pathological gambling disorder:

  • People without a gambling addiction will stop gambling when they reach their loss threshold.
  • People with a gambling addiction hold irrational beliefs about their chances of winning vs. losing which renders them incapable of making the decision to stop. Thus, their loss threshold is distorted.

An economic study found evidence that there are two common irrational beliefs that affect gambling behavior: The "hot hand myth" and the "gambler's fallacy."

  1. The Hot Hand Myth: The belief that the chance of winning increases after a string of wins. Gamblers also believe that they possess skills over what are actually games of chance.
  2. The Gambler’s Fallacy: The belief that a win is likely to be followed by a loss and vice versa. Gamblers refuse to see each game of chance as independent of any other, believing that they are interconnected.


Why Would Losing Give You a High?

Everyone experiences a high when they win. Winning and the anticipation of winning trigger the release of chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, which produces that high feeling. But when losing is accompanied by audio and visual stimuli designed to keep you playing, this can have the same effect on the brain.

As previously mentioned, the hot hand myth is the belief that a gambler has skill that can overcome the odds in the games of chance they play. But are they truly games of chance? Not so much. Casinos promote gambling with marketing tactics and by rigging games and machines to lure people in and influence them to make decisions to play more often and to bet more money.

Casinos and gambling websites go to great expense to design games to confuse the brain. The various “bells and whistles” cause the wires to get crossed in the brain. Even when you lose, it feels like winning. These enchanting flashing colorful lights and chimes can even produce a trance-like state that cause you to get hooked to the point where you can’t stop playing for hours.

The odds are stacked against gamblers. Casinos and websites do not play fair. The slot machines, for example, are rigged to present outcomes that are close to a win in order to keep the player hooked. This plays into the gambler’s fallacy described above, believing that a loss is likely to be followed by a win.


4 Signs That Indicate Gambling Has Gone Beyond Fun and Crossed Into the Realm of Pathological Disorder

  • When gambling is used as an escape and a coping mechanism for dealing with stress or anxiety. In this case, gambling is believed to be a distraction from one’s problems.
  • Experiencing disruptions in relationships. When your circle of people become fed up due to behaviors associated with borrowing too much money and not paying it back and excessive lying to cover up gambling activities.
  • Stealing – even stealing from family and friends to pay off debts and to gamble more.
  • Experiencing serious financial trouble such as loss of job, home, or car, and overwhelming credit card debt.

If you or someone you know exhibits these signs of a gambling addiction, contact Algamus to get more information.

Topics: Gambling Addiction, Treatment

Rick Benson

Written by Rick Benson

Rick founded Algamus Recovery Centers in 1992. A Cornell University graduate, Rick is an Internationally Certified Gambling Counselor (ICGC-II) and a Canadian Problem Gambling Counselor (CPGC). Algamus and Rick were featured on the very first episode of Intervention on the A&E channel.