Understanding How Gambling Addiction Starts

Have you ever wondered, “How do I become addicted to gambling?” and “How can you lose control even when there are no drugs or addictive substitutes involved?” I will explain how gambling addiction starts with the best example: the Venus flytrap.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this plant before. Venus Flytraps consume flies or small insects that crawl onto their leaves and come into contact with their tiny trigger hairs, causing the trap to close. These hairs are usually located on the inner part of the leaves to secure the catch.

How Does That Work?

They receive signals triggered by these inner hairs when prey reaches the inner part, and the leaves close. To entice their prey, Venus flytraps use an addictive and highly attractive nectar and vibrant colors on the edges of their leaves, typically considered a safe zone for the initial visitors. This nectar, or substitute, becomes denser on the inner side, covered with trigger hairs.

Essentially, prey is drawn to this sweet substance, and they venture further onto it. Their journey takes them to the innermost area where the taste becomes even richer. Upon touching many of the tiny inner trigger hairs, the leaves close tightly, and the prey is immobilized. Once the leaves are closed, the plant secretes a special chemical to digest the prey.

What’s the Connection with Gambling and the Venus Flytrap?

This can be the perfect analogy to describe a gambler’s journey. Remember, we all start with small stakes, and eventually, we find ourselves in millions of debts, lost homes, cars, investments, or whatever else. Some people view gambling as a form of leisure or entertainment. While there are responsible individuals who can control their bets or budget their money before starting, for some people, like me, gambling can become a life-consuming disaster, leading to numerous psychological problems.

Similar to the Venus flytrap, all gamblers begin with modest wagers or bets, finding satisfaction even when they win small amounts. However, in some individuals, driven by their psychological makeup, they seek more like a fly eager to taste more of this “chemical” excitement. Just as the fly needs to venture deeper to access more of the substance, humans increase their wagers to attain higher levels of dopamine and experience greater pleasure or feel-good emotions from this trap.

In humans, gambling addiction begins for various reasons. Some seek fun, others aim for an additional income, and some simply desire wealth, as gambling seemingly offers a quick path to riches within minutes or hours. Depending on an individual’s behavior, some gradually develop a gambling addiction, eventually ruining their lives when they reach the final stage—total depletion of all possible resources.

Why Does Gambling Become So Problematic?

The core issue lies in the excitement that gambling provides. This excitement arises from dopamine, a neurotransmitter that brings happiness and motivation to our daily lives at a natural and innocent level. We all require dopamine to thrive, but our brain’s natural balance is set at specific levels.

When we artificially increase our dopamine levels, everyday activities like eating or enjoying time with friends lose their appeal. We become perpetually driven to seek out substances that can replicate the same dopamine rush, just as gamblers chase the same thrill.

All forms of addiction affect the brain in a similar way, albeit to varying degrees. To illustrate, consider this example (note that these numbers are for illustration purposes only). Eating releases 100 units of dopamine, sex triggers 300 units, but addictive activities such as smoking, drinking, or drugs can release a whopping 1000 units. After experiencing such intense highs, activities like eating or having sex no longer provide the same excitement.

This is the starting point of how one becomes addicted to gambling. Gambling has its unique impact on the brain’s reward system. To revisit the example, if drugs release 1000 units of dopamine, gambling could unleash 3000 units. This is because gambling doesn’t instill the same fear of stopping as drugs do. It is a comfortable zone where individuals know there are no immediate health risks or imminent danger. This perception of innocence and safety makes people more susceptible to gambling addiction.

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When Gambling Becomes Problem!

Furthermore, the more a person bets, the greater the tolerance their brain develops. Similar to the flytrap, where more of the substance is found deeper inside, gamblers are driven to delve deeper into the gambling world. And just like the trap snapping shut when the prey is in the right spot, the endgame for gamblers usually occurs when they’ve lost almost everything. Problematic gamblers resort to loans or borrow money just to continue their pursuit of dopamine.

Their losses become mere illusions, as they’re driven by the desire to experience the so-called “feel-good” moments. However, much like other endgames, the gambling trap also closes once the money runs out. The prey gets devoured by the plant, just as gamblers succumb to the gambling trap. In both scenarios, the initial excitement turns into a harsh reality: what started as fun and sweetness ends up as devastation. This is the harsh truth of gambling addiction.

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