Every gambler knows it: sometimes Fortuna just doesn’t mean well to us, luck is not on our side and somehow everything goes wrong when gambling. Does that ring a bell? If so, then you know that even if it doesn’t rain winnings on some days, that doesn’t mean that the fun of the game is diminished.
Even after losing a round, we often still feel like playing on. What is the reason for that? Where does the high after a lost game come from?
That’s right: To get to the bottom of the solution, we have to look at biology, or more precisely: neurobiology. The reason for the feeling of elation we experience while playing lies in the brain. Hormones there ensure that we feel a kind of intoxication – the brain is put into a state of emergency. The release of happiness hormones determines how we feel. A kind of cycle develops that is quite simple to describe:
- First of all, the topic of “gambling” must arrive in the brain, meaning: people play or even think about gambling, even that can already crank up the mechanisms in the brain.
- Gambling triggers the thought of winning in us, regardless of how well or badly things are actually going at the time. The thought of winning then causes a release of happiness hormones in the brain: dopamine and serotonin.
- Both dopamine and serotonin are powerful hormones. While serotonin is mainly responsible for the feeling of happiness, dopamine triggers the pleasant feeling of being rewarded. The combination of these two hormones is responsible for the high we feel when we participate in gambling or think about it.
The neurobiological mechanism behind gambling is what keeps us coming back to gambling, because who doesn’t like to be happy?
Happy Hormones When You Lose?
But why do we also feel a sense of elation when we lose? Are the happiness hormones also released during less successful rounds? The answer is yes.
With the knowledge of the processes in the brain that take place when we participate in gambling or think about it, the reason for this answer is easy to understand: The happiness hormones are released before it is even clear whether you win or lose.
Just the thought of winning is what makes us happy – and this thought is so closely linked to the topic of “gambling” that it is always triggered immediately when it comes to gambling, whether we notice it or not.
So we become happy long before it rains winnings. This is the reason why gamblers feel high even when they lose.
Can Gambling Change Our Brain?
This question comes to mind when we consider the powerful mechanisms that gambling triggers in the brain, and it is indeed justified: Indeed, regular participation in gambling can cause our brain structure to change. This is mainly related to the neurological plasticity of the brain.
Neurological plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the brain’s ability to change, even in adults. This is not the case with bones, for example – they grow up to a certain point and then stop growing at some point. The brain, however, remains mobile, changeable, and can even be restructured manually by us.
What seems quite complicated here is actually quite simple and everyone knows it: What has been described here is the process of learning.
Learning takes place in the brain and through this process we can change our brain: Practising and repeating something has a direct influence on our central nervous system.
For this reason, it is also possible that gambling changes our brains: We get used to the release of the happiness hormones dopamine and serotonin, so to speak.
Our brain learns that gambling triggers a feeling of elation, which is why we link this to the thought of gambling and thus like to return to the gambling table again and again.
When Gambling Becomes a Danger
Gambling can affect the structure of our brain – that’s quite a scary thought. In fact, it is a fact that the process of how gambling can change the brain more or less describes the process of an emerging addiction. However, this is not the fault of gambling per se: addiction is also programmed into the brain in the same way regarding other areas.
The danger of addiction exists: The body gets used to the highs that serotonin and dopamine trigger. Unfortunately, every high is followed by a low: when the activity responsible for the rush of happiness falls away, an unpleasant low follows – the withdrawal symptoms.
With this in mind, it is important to always take good care to act responsibly when it comes to gambling. After all, one thing should be in the foreground here: fun!
Do You Want to Feel High?
Now that you’re well informed about what happens in the brain on a neurobiological level when you participate in gambling, you’ve taken the first step in arming yourself against the threat of unhealthy behavior: Knowledge and understanding.
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After every high comes a low and no high is free of consequences. That is one of the lessons you can learn from this article. However, it is undeniable that gambling is also such a popular hobby, precisely because the fun factor is not dependent on winning.
In this sense, we can only give you one thing to take with you: Balance! Throw yourself into the fun, have fun, and keep in mind what is actually happening on a neurobiological level. Pay attention to moderation and the correct intentions, then you are on the safe side!
Gambling indeed comes with its highs and lows, and this article serves as a reminder of the associated consequences. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the allure of gambling often lies in the sheer enjoyment it offers, irrespective of winning or losing.
In conclusion, remember the key takeaway: balance. Dive into the excitement, relish the experience, and stay aware of the neurobiological aspects at play. Always exercise moderation and maintain the right intentions, ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey in the world of gambling.