New Study Reveals Why It Is So Difficult to Quit Gambling

Depressed senior man in shirt and suspenders leaning his head at the poker table with money and gambling chips laying all around him

People have long wondered why some gamblers develop addiction problems and cannot stop placing bets and rolling the dice while others can walk away at any time. A new study reveals exactly why.

Reasons for this study

A lot of people gamble just for fun on occasion, whether to play a few slots or take part in some casual blackjack or roulette, but many others are fully invested in the activity of gambling.

They take the pursuit very seriously, and some of them end up developing serious addiction problems that can cause them to spiral out of control and lose significant sums of money, but they are still unable to quit.

Even though the house has the odds stacked in their favor on the majority of games, they just can’t stop betting. They believe that the next spin or the next roll of the dice will be the solution to all of their problems.

Scientists and researchers have been studying this phenomenon, and some of their research has just been published.

Gamblers lose almost $120bn (£917,880,000) each year in the United States. This is a staggering sum, and it will likely go even higher now that the federal ban on sports betting has been lifted.

There have never been more opportunities for someone to gamble, whether at a casino or racetrack or even on a mobile device. Flashy advertisements target young people, normalizing gambling in their developing minds and making them more vulnerable.

Research into the causes of problem gambling can go a long way to prevent it and to help treat those who are suffering from it.

Results of these studies

Neuroscience research is coming closer to finding a solution to this age-old problem. It focused on what happens on a biological level when gamblers engage in risky behavior.

Studies like this could help with the treatment of gambling addiction in the near future. It is not as simple as blaming it on dysfunctional reward circuitry, which is the area in the brain that fires when responding to pleasing stimuli, such as drugs and sex.

A more complex effect is at work, mixing emotions with decision making to give a thrill to winning when there is a bigger risk of loss. a John Hopkins University team conducted this research. They believe they have found the region in the brain that plays an important role in making risky decisions.

A paper about the research appeared in Current Biology. They used rhesus monkeys because the monkeys have an almost identical brains structure as humans and a similar functioning mechanism. Rhesus monkeys are also inherent risk-takers.

The researchers trained a pair of monkeys to gamble against a computer with servings of water as the prize. There was a 20% chance of winning 10mm of water and an 80% chance of 3mm of water. Comprehensively, they chose to take the gamble, even if they weren’t thirsty.

The area of the brain in question is known as the supplementary eye field (SEF). It is important for the regulation of eye movements and is a key influence in making decisions. When the researchers cooled this area, there was a 30%-40% decrease in the probability of the monkeys going for the risky bets.

This appears to show that the SEF is a key determinant in attitudes towards risky activities and behavior. Therefore, it could be a treatment target area for those who have issues with problem gambling.

However, there is still a lot of work and understanding to be done before they can figure out what sort of implications such therapy would have. In the long term, the area holds a lot of promise.