Drug and Alcohol - Sobriety

Can Gambling Turn Into Substance Abuse?

Gambling and substance abuse are different addictions … but they can feed off each other. Learn more with our blog or by calling The Forge today!

Can Gambling Turn Into Substance Abuse?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

May 11, 2022

The Forge Recovery Center

A thrill accompanies dropping a few dollars down on a casino table to see if the cards will cause an individual to gain more money. Millions of Americans visit casinos every day and have a safe, sensational experience. Comparatively, others get involved with gambling and become psychologically addicted to the game. But can gambling lead to substance abuse and addiction?

Addictions Are Similar

The symptoms of gambling addiction are similar to those who have substance use disorders. They fall in line with the amount of time spent thinking about gambling or the substance, tolerance level, and potential withdrawal symptoms involved. When an individual struggles with substance use disorder, more often than not, the drug is all that matters in their life.

Regardless of the situation or the substance, the amount of time, tolerance, and potential withdrawal symptoms increase when substance use becomes a disorder. The same applies to gambling addiction. Many individuals get caught up in the thrill of gambling. It may lead them to avoid their responsibilities, problems, or personal aspirations because they crave that next roll of the dice.

No matter what type of addiction an individual may struggle with, the strains it puts on a person can cause them to continue to use with an inability to stop themselves once they pass a certain point. There is common ground between excessive gambling and a substance use disorder. Some individuals find it challenging to control and look for different ways to support their unhealthy habits.

Neurological Aspects of Substance Use Disorders and Gambling

While there are similar attributes between addiction to gambling and substance use, all addictions affect an individual's mental health. Both involve the neurological elements of one's brain as it affects dopamine levels and influences the individual to continue the habit as it becomes their new normal. When the action stops, the individual may experience withdrawals as the brain recognizes the lack of feel-good chemistry it has become accustomed to.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that allows an individual to feel good. Each human has specific amounts of dopamine in their brain. When an individual uses substance or finds excitement through gambling, the dopamine levels increase. The brain recognizes that it is getting the chemicals without having to produce them, and as a result, it stops organically producing normal levels of dopamine.

Gambling addiction and substance use disorders produce similar results in the brain regarding the experience of the win and the influence of the high of the substance, respectively. The experience makes individuals feel great, leading them to build a tolerance to use the substance or use it more often. This then can cause substance use disorder and addiction. The way the brain reacts cognitively connects actions and behaviors to how one thinks and acts.

When external substances or behaviors influence the mental process, the brain recognizes it as a new way to respond and react. For example, when individuals see a blackjack table, they associate it with a heightened feeling of excitement, but only when they win. When they do not win, they may blame the table for the failure and the loss. The same goes for substance use disorders.

When individuals use substances, they feel good—that is essentially why they use them, particularly in the beginning. If they do not have the drug, they may blame others for their lack of the substance, which can cause adverse reactions and completely change the way they think.

It is not about whether gambling can turn into substance abuse. Rather, it is about the brain’s reaction to gambling that can lead an individual toward finding outside sources to mimic the intoxicating feeling of winning. This is where the addiction or substance use often begins.

How to Talk to Someone About Substance Use or Gambling Addiction

It is vital that individuals who struggle with gambling addiction or substance use receive help—if and when they are ready to receive it. While the substance and the act of gambling can cause problems—for example, overdose and financial problems, respectively—the core elements of why the substance use or addiction occurred and continued need to be considered.

If an individual has been using substances or been gambling for years and cannot stop, their cognitive functioning has been conditioned to react to the unhealthy habit. Therefore, it is essential for those who do not understand substance use or gambling addictions to talk with a specialist who can explain and improve their knowledge before making judgment calls.

If an individual has arrived at this place and is looking for assistance from professionals that understand their gambling or substance use situation, it is important to take the next step forward.

There are healthy ways to fill the void addiction creates. When addictions influence and negatively impact your life, finding alternative options to improve your happiness in life is critical. You deserve to have a happy and successful life and have the means to find fulfillment from healthy habits without the severe consequences of substance use disorders or gambling addictions.

The Forge Recovery Center will help you or a loved one recover and find happiness by eliminating unhealthy habits and choosing new ones. For more information on substance use disorders, please get in touch with us today.

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