Why Does Gambling “Feel Good”?
If you always win at the casino or when placing sports bets online, you probably wouldn’t ask why the activity elevates your mood. After all, common sense suggests that the opportunity to win money is the primary motivator. This view is consistent with longstanding evidence confirming that rewards shape human behavior. The prospect of a reward helps us choose actions that will lead to abundance and motivates us to carry out those actions. But of course, gambling doesn’t consistently lead to winning. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 13.5% of gamblers make it out with a profit, and that number may decline the longer they play. As the saying goes, the house always wins. Knowing this, you can’t help but wonder – why does gambling feel good despite the losses you’ve sustained? Below is the answer you’re looking for along with a clarifying note that the elevated emotions you’re feeling are far from sustainable.
Why Gambling Appears to Make You Feel Good (and why it’s a lie that’s not sustainable)
Your Brain is Playing Tricks on You
Whether in a casino or gaming/betting online, gambling drives your brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a “feel good” neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and excited. This process persists even for losses which helps explain why your emotions may remain elevated even when on a losing streak. Consequently, you may find that you turn to gambling when you’ve had a bad day or have been struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression. You may also gamble when you’re bored.
Researchers have found the same dopaminergic responses between people who are able to control their gambling behavior and problem gamblers, when winning. However, the same body of research found that dopamine release is more pronounced for the losses in problem gamblers compared to their counterparts. If you continue to feel good when gambling and sustaining losses among other consequences, you may have a gambling problem. Take the quick 5-minute quiz below to find out:
Why It Will Backfire
The “feel good” feeling will invariably fade. You may have already experienced this, which is why you return to gambling once feelings of anxiety, stress, depression, and/or boredom return after you’ve left the casino or closed the betting app on your phone. What you’re experiencing is a post-gambling dopamine crash. For the average person a dopamine crash can bring about mild negative emotions. For someone who is struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression, the post-gambling loss of dopamine is particularly problematic. In an attempt to feel good again, you will gamble again. However, over time your brain requires greater frequency and/or prolonged periods engaged in gambling to provide the same level of dopamine release. Simply put, you will need to gamble more to sustain the positive emotions you’ve become accustomed to, and that is clearly not a sustainable way to live.
Why does gambling feel good? In reality it doesn’t. It has forced your brain to lie to you, and it’s time to stop letting it win.
Learn to Feel Good Again…Without Gambling
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