The first NHS clinic for youth addicted to gambling will open in London later this year. The National Problem Gambling Clinic will help people between the ages of 13 and 25. So what’s the deal with gambling which makes it so addicting? And what can we do?
To answer those questions you have to go back to when humans were simple hunter-gatherers and our only job was to survive. “In simple terms our brains are designed in such a way that they are looking for gifts”, explains Dr Cyrus Abbasian, an addiction specialist at Nightingale Hospital in London.
That reward, he says, comes in the form of dopamine – a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good. “Betting affects a part of the brain that is primitive, a part of the brain that is, from an evolutionary point of view, less advanced and more about immediate profit. “Back in the day we would have the great emotional reward of killing an animal, bringing it back and finding enough food for our families.
But with the addictive stuff – whether it’s alcohol, drugs or gambling – Dr Abbasian says the reward system is hijacked. “Now we live in a very artificial environment. We are not designed to drive cars and get around by plane and train.
“But the primitive brain is still there and its immediate rewards without much thought and without much logic still function. “And lots of companies – alcohol, tobacco, gambling, gaming – make the most of it. So when we bet – and win – our brains give us basic emotional rewards. Many people will be able to get that dopamine and get on with their lives. But not everyone.
“When the addicted person reaches a stage where normal activities are no longer satisfying and the individual is then only betting on that buzz, that happiness, the release that most of us experience through our daily lives. And because it’s partly the function of our brains, addictive behavior can run in families. There is clearly a genetic contribution to that. Some people are genetically predisposed to prefer direct gifts.