According to some polls, over 26% of the world’s population enjoys betting on sports and games of chance. However, when does this hobby morph into a compulsion? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders says that this happens when a person is aware of the negative consequences of indulging in this activity but cannot resist this urge and stop. For the longest time, psychologists and psychiatrists considered problem gambling an impulse control issue. Yet, they now classify it as a mental health disorder, which shows multiple similarities with other substance addictions.
Studies on the neurology of pathological gamblers list the following diagnostic criteria for gambling addiction: a preoccupation with this activity, a lack of control, gamblers experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms when not betting for extended periods, chasing losses, and partaking in illegal activities to continue wagering. Thankfully, only around 1% of all survey responders show these signs, with many being able to keep this activity strictly an entertainment-based pastime. However, new and unearthed older research now sheds light on how drugs can influence people to keep risking their hard-earned money, despite knowing the financial and emotional risks associated with this behavior.
Everyone that has had as much as a fleeting interest in this societal trouble knows that gambling sways the brain’s rewards system pretty much the same way most addictive substances do, causing it to release more dopamine. Hence, it should come as no surprise that taking specific drugs can enhance a person’s compulsion to bet.
Pharmaceutical Drugs & Gambling Compulsion
In 2020, a study published in the Journal of Gambling Studies detailed data attained by the Italian Medicine Agency (AIFA) from 2002 to 2018. It stemmed from Parkinson’s disease research and how pathological gambling got frequently reported as a byproduct of this illness and its pharmacological treatments based on dopamine agonists. The AIFA works with the Italian Pharmacovigilance System in collecting individual case drug safety reports. Going by Italian law and regulation, these entries get pooled together and are available through a RAM system (Italian safety data), which is how they became accessible for this study.
The information reviewed analyzed ninety-four suspected cases of pathological gambling linked with medication for Parkinson’s disease. The drugs used in these cases were aripiprazole, apomorphine, cabergoline, levodopa. Plus derivatives of entacapone/benserazide, pramipexole, pergolide, carbidopa, rotigotine, and ropinirole. The findings disclosed that pramipexole got used in 56% of cases where patients displayed a propensity for gambling. Ropinirole and levodopa also showed a non-negligible presence of 15% and 11% of analyzed cases.
A ten-year scan of FDA data concerning dopamine antagonists and gambling published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed similar results. As many as one in seven patients who used these drugs experienced striking psychological side effects, affecting their risk/benefit assessment criteria, leading these individuals to compulsive behavior when it comes to betting, shopping, and sex.
The Effects of Recreational Drugs on Betting Patterns
On several occasions, the American Psychiatric Association has claimed that a strong correlation exists between pathological gambling and cocaine use. Various brain scans of cocaine addicts and those suffering from a compulsion towards gambling reveal that both parties’ brains get affected in pretty much the same way when engaging in betting activities or taking cocaine. An older study from the 1990s presented statistics that stated that 15% of surveyed American cocaine users also met the diagnostic criteria for getting labeled as problem gamblers. These addicts all showed aspects of attention deficit disorder and were more likely to partake in higher sensation-seeking behavior.
Surprisingly, marijuana use also seems to impact people’s propensity for gambling. A 2014 study on this topic showed that 30% of young adult gamblers used cannabis, and those that had a history of past use were more liable to fall prey to the temptations of betting. Another research outlined that adolescents who use marijuana may be more prone to the thrills win/loss stimulation that gambling provides than those who don’t.
How Alcohol Impacts Gambling Behavior
Yes, alcohol is a drug. It slows down the brain’s neural activity, reducing several of the body’s vital functions. Therefore, it gets classified as a central nervous system depressant. The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs believes it should be a Class A substance if we categorize drugs based on the harm they do, which does not gel with the public’s perception of it.
In terms of excessive betting fun, alcohol often plays a substantial role. The alcohol addiction rate among problem gamblers hovers around 73%, and those who cannot control their drinking habits are up to six times more likely to develop a gambling addiction than non-drinkers. Moreover, when individuals consume hard liquor in vast amounts, their prefrontal cortex activity gets reduced. That is the part of the brain responsible for higher-order cognitive processing. In other words, reasoning.
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