Gambling can be extremely exciting. Much of the excitement comes from putting your money on the line and having the chance to win big.
It also doesn’t hurt that the gaming world is filled with plenty of entertaining games. Slot machines, baccarat, blackjack, daily fantasy sports, poker, roulette, and sports betting are just some of the popular gambling activities.
But it’s important to realize that not all of the thrills come from huge wins and games alone. Instead, a brain chemical called dopamine produces much of this euphoria.
As you’ll find out here, dopamine can actually be a bad thing with regard to gambling. Therefore, you want to consider steps to lower this chemical if you have a problem. Keep reading as I discuss more on dopamine along with ways to decrease it.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between brain cells. It plays a role in our motivation to do many things, from what we eat to our preferred forms of entertainment.
Like any neurotransmitter, dopamine shuttles messages across the brain. These messages bind to docking-station molecules called brain receptors. The receptors relay messages they receive from dopamine to neighboring receptors.
The two parts of the brain that create dopamine and other neurotransmitters are the “substantia nigra” and “ventral tegmental.” Both of these areas are smaller than a postage stamp, but they greatly influence our everyday actions.
Dopamine from the substantia nigra area controls our speech and movements. Dopamine from the ventral tegmental goes to the brain and serves as a reward for various actions.
If you eat a delicious piece of cake, the ventral tegmental’s dopamine convinces your brain that it’s worth having another slice.
This chemical can unfortunately reinforce undesirable practices. You know that cake isn’t good from a dieting perspective. However, the dopamine-induced reward can overpower your logic and cause you to eat more.
At this point, it seems like the neurotransmitter is largely bad. But dopamine also plays an important role in motivating you to accomplish goals too.
You may feel euphoric after finishing a difficult workout or coming up with a great dining plan. These two are examples of dopamine rewarding your brain for positive accomplishments.
It’s important to have a healthy level of this neurotransmitter so that you maintain the motivation to carry out daily tasks. Too much dopamine, though, can cause you to develop risk-taking behavior.
Possessing too little of this chemical leaves you lethargic and unmotivated to get off the couch. This is a joyless state called anhedonia that some would consider even worse than being a gambling addict.
How Does Dopamine Cause You to Gamble More?
Dopamine is essentially what reinforces you to carry out specific behaviors again and again. It prompts you to choose between a greasy hamburger and healthy salad.
You’re likely to do whatever your dopamine is pushing you towards. The same is true of gambling, which offers its own set of rewards.
The biggest gaming reward on the surface is that you can win money. Nothing is more exciting than going on a hot streak and raking in thousands of dollars in a single session.
Of course, you don’t have to get hot and win big just to experience the thrill of gaming. Winning a few rounds here there can also motivate you to keep playing.
It’s important to realize that these wins are reinforced by dopamine. This neurotransmitter begins transporting messages after every successful round.
Feeling good about winning wagers is perfectly normal. However, a key problem arises when these rewards keep coming during losing sessions.
Here’s an example:
- Bob is playing roulette and make even-money bets.
- He wins a $100 wager and feels good (bankroll at +$100).
- He loses three $100 consecutive bets and is sad (bankroll at -$200).
- His next wager wins, and he’s pumped up (bankroll at -$100).
- Bob’s following two $100 bets lose (bankroll at -$300).
- He wins the final $100 wager and leaves a happy person (bankroll at -$200).
Looking at this progression, Bob only won three bets and lost five. He quit his gambling session with a $200 loss.
Logic says that he should feel bad about the session. However, Bob doesn’t feel too down, because he won a few wagers and left after the final win.
Dopamine doesn’t use logic when it rewards our brain. It reinforces certain events, even when they’re not good in the long run.
What Are the Potential Dangers of Dopamine Triggered Gambling?
The bad thing about dopamine is that it can make you feel out of control when gambling. Again, it doesn’t account for logic when reinforcing behaviors.
This fact can lead to a number of gaming related problems. Here are the biggest potential pitfalls you need to watch out for.
Betting More Money Than You Should
The obvious downside to dopamine overload includes the temptation to bet more money. You likely have a strong idea on how much you can afford to lose in any session.
Of course, it’s hard to stick to a plan when you’re constantly receiving mental rewards for a win here or there. You may eventually think that it’s alright to keep trying for that next win, even when you’ve had a terrible session.
Many gambling addicts have feelings of guilt and think that they’re terrible people. However, there’s also a physical element at play here in the form of dopamine.
You don’t even have to be an addict in order to feel down about your gaming. Simply having one or two out-of-control sessions can leave you depressed for a while.
Playing Longer Than You Should
Losing money and gambling too long often go hand in hand. The casino holds an edge in almost every situation, which means you’ll probably lose more money by playing longer.
Of course, the sessions where you do win big profits are sweet. But you need luck on your side in order to beat the house advantage.
Gambling should always be looked at as a form of entertainment, rather than a way to make money. The only time you can consider gaming a job is when you’re an advantage gambler (e.g. card counter) or can beat a player-vs-player game (e.g. poker).
Other than these instances, though, you don’t want to spend hours in the casino. Unfortunately, dopamine can make you suspend time and continue making bets.
Seeking New Gambling Thrills
It’s always best to gamble within your means. For example, you don’t want to place $1,000 wagers when you’ve only brought $2,000 to the casino.
The problem with dopamine, though, is that it can lead to seeking risky behavior to experience new highs. Many drug users suffer from this scenario, as they abuse more and more substances to get a stronger high.
The good thing about gambling is that it doesn’t cause direct physical harm to you like cocaine or heroin. But it does leave open the possibility that you place larger wagers just to get new thrills.
Stealing Money to Fund a Gambling Habit
The worst thing a gambling addict can do is steal money to fund their habit. Luckily, the vast majority of people – no matter their penchant for gambling – never stoop to this level.
However, anybody who’s received a steady diet of gambling related dopamine won’t feel right if they’re tapped out. This lack of funds may cause them to acquire more money through any means necessary.
I recently watched a Dr. Phil episode, where a father-of-three stole thousands of dollars from his wife to fund a gambling habit. It was obvious that he needed the money so he could continue chasing another high.
Tips to Lower Your Dopamine?
Earlier I discussed how a healthy dopamine level is important. Having too little of this neurotransmitter will leave you feeling unproductive and even depressed.
But the reverse, where you have too much dopamine, isn’t good either. It’s especially harmful if you have trouble controlling your gaming.
I don’t recommend that you take drastic steps to lower your dopamine, especially from a long-term perspective. However, the following steps might be worth considering during a big casino trip.
Limit Caffeine Consumption
If you’re like me, you consider caffeine to be an essential part of any day. This drug keeps you alert/awake and more productive.
It’s important to realize, though, that caffeine also causes your dopamine to rise. If you already suffer from risky and impulsive behaviors, chugging coffee and soda won’t help.
In fact, coffee, soda, black tea, and energy drinks are all loaded with this stimulant. Therefore, you should avoid or at least minimize these drinks when gambling.
Try Special Herbs
The last thing you probably want to do is run out and buy a bunch of herbs. However, it’s worth noting that certain natural herbs can lower your dopamine level.
- Lemon essential oil is a pleasant way to decrease this neurotransmitter. It speeds up the turnover of dopamine in the hippocampus, thus reducing the duration of the effects. Inhaling this oil’s vapors will also help you stave off anxiety and depression.
- Magnolia bark is an herb that’s been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s effective at treating asthma and digestive problems.
This herb is classified as a nootropic, meaning it protects the brain from inflammation and oxidation. It’s also believed to be a dopamine inhibitor.
- Amino acids, like 5-HTP and tryptophan are effective at depleting dopamine too. Tryptophan, which is found in animals like turkey, is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. 5-HTP is commonly taken to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Both of these amino-acid supplements will help decrease dopamine. However, you may want to consider tryptophan first, because it has fewer side effects than 5-HTP and is the safer long-term option.
Eat a Balanced Diet
One of the easiest ways to take care of excess dopamine is to get your diet in order. Make sure you’re eating plenty of foods that are rich in carbohydrates and proteins.
Carbs can decrease dopamine levels and balance your state of mind. Meat will help regulate your brain’s production of neurotransmitters thanks to its many proteins.
You want to consume plenty of green vegetables just for the sake of your health. Supplements are also worth considering if you’re low on B-vitamin or essential minerals like iron and zinc.
Talk to a Doctor
You should consult a doctor if you think there’s a serious problem with your dopamine level. A qualified professional is preferable to trying to sort out the matter on your own with caffeine limits and supplements.
Of course, the majority of related problems revolve around having low dopamine. But it’s still possible to have too much of this brain chemical, leading to risky behavior.
A doctor can run tests for your neurotransmitters and figure out if there’s an imbalance. They may even prescribe you dopamine inhibitors if your level is too high.
Hopefully, you don’t have any problems with gambling and can enjoy yourself in a controlled manner. But if you do ever go too far in the casino, then you may want to consider if high dopamine is a problem.
Dopamine can make it difficult to maintain control. You may fully know that eating half a pie or gambling too much are bad decisions. But dopamine is sending reward signals to your brain and clouding your judgement.
Simply realizing that there’s a neurotransmitter at play can help curb your gaming urges. However, you may need to take more-concentrated steps to avoid dopamine fueled gambling binges.
Consuming less caffeine, taking supplements, and eating a well-balanced diet can all help. You should consider visiting a doctor if you’re highly prone to risky decisions at the casino or elsewhere. They can administer tests to see if you have a high dopamine level and need inhibitors.
Of course, nothing is more effective than exercising strong willpower. Being able to say no to another hour of gambling when it’s time to quit is key to bankroll management.
But not everybody has this ability to stop when they should. If you’re in this boat, then take steps to curb your dopamine so that you don’t feel rewarded when gambling too much.