Woman with poker chips

What Causes a Gambling Addiction?

Kris Lozano

When it comes to any kind of addiction, the exact cause can be really tricky to pinpoint. Like with alcoholism, food addiction, or any other kind of compulsive behavior, there is always the question of nature vs nurture. If a guardian is addicted to alcohol, is the child more likely to have the same addiction? And if so, is it genetic, or because they grew up observing that behavior? While the scientific community is still discovering the latest research about the causes of addiction, there are some clear risk factors that play a role in gambling addiction. Although these factors may contribute to someone developing a gambling addiction, having these risk factors does not alone certify that someone will develop problem gambling.

Mental Health Disorders:

Suffering from mental health disorders like OCD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression, or Anxiety are not going to necessarily drive someone to start gambling, but gambling can definitely exacerbate emotional, psychological, and mental issues, which can create a stronger tendency towards problem gambling. This can be especially true if the mental disorder drives them to be especially competitive, or to have compulsive behavior tendencies.

Age:

The younger someone is when they start any habit or behavior, the easier it will be for that behavior to become part of their personality. This could be positive things, like good study habits, but it also rings true for detrimental habits like smoking or drinking. The younger someone is when they start gambling, the easier it will be for gambling to become a problem sometime in their life.

Family or Friend Influence:

It really is true that you become who you are friends with. People who hang around a lot of gamblers will be more likely to gamble, and what can make this more difficult is that if gambling does become a problem in someone’s life, it will be more difficult for them to quit if their friends gamble too, then not only are they changing their habits and activities, but they can feel like they have to say goodbye to their friends as well.

Medications Used to Treat Parkinson’s, or Restless Leg Syndrome:

Drugs called dopamine agonists have a rare side effect that can affect the reward center in someone’s brain and may result in compulsive behaviors, including gambling. Scientists are getting a clear picture of this happening to a large amount of people on these dopamine agonists, but they are still struggling to figure out why. If you want to read more on this, check out this study done by JAMA Internal Medicine .

Personality Traits:

People who tend to be more competitive, impulsive, or restless can find it easier to let gambling become a problem in their lives. Ambition is a great thing to have, but it can make dangerous activities all that more dangerous

Life Events:

Traumatic or notable life events can affect us in a veriaty of ways. When someone is in a car accident they may turn to pain killers, if a family member dies someone may turn to alcohol, or even after a breakup a person could cope with drugs. It really depends on the person, the event, and the support system to determine how someone will react to emotional life events. Studies have found that people, especially men, who suffer from a gambling addiction are more likely than their peers to have suffered trauma or abuse as a child. One way to combat this is to seek help from a friend, family member, or professional source and deal with emotional trauma.

Prevention:

For the majority of people, the one-off trip to Las Vegas won’t send them spiraling down a gambling addiction path. However, there is only one sure way to prevent a gambling addiction and that is to not gamble. If you find that you have risk factors that could contribute to you having a harder time saying no to gambling, then every time you step into a casino or place a bet, you are not only gambling with your money, but with your life as well.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from problem gambling, there is a lot of helpful information, resources, and an online chat on the National Council on Problem Gambling website, or you can call or text their hotline at 1-800-522-4700.