In the middle of our skull there is a so-called A reward system that connects areas responsible for memory, movement, pleasure, and motivation. When we do something that makes us feel alive or helps us transmit genes, the neurons in that system release dopamine, which makes us want to do it again. When stimulated with amphetamine, cocaine or other drugs, this system releases 10 times more dopamine than usual.
Prolonged use of the drug impairs the system’s ability to naturally cause a feeling of euphoria. External stimuli so “flood” the brain with dopamine that it no longer responds to it. As a result, drug addicts lose their sensitivity to pleasure and need more and more doses of stimuli to experience the same sensation. In case of severe addiction, when the brain is no longer supplied with the dopamine-causing substance, there is also abstinence (so-called Lomka) – drug users become physically ill, can no longer sleep and tremble incessantly. At the same time, the neural connections that connect the reward system to the prefrontal cortex are weakened (this area is responsible for subduing impulses). Thus, the more drugs a person consumes, the harder it is to stop.
Studies show that abnormal gamblers and drug addicts alike are genetically predisposed to each other: in many cases, their “reward system” functions more poorly than usual, and it is the pursuit of strong emotions that is the primary reason why they engage in risky behaviors. Neuroscientists have also found that drugs and play “programs” the same areas of the brain. The scientists came to this conclusion by observing the activity of brain areas and blood circulation. The subjects performed various tasks on the computer that either imitated casino games or tested their impulse control skills. In some cases the player lost or won money by removing the virtual cards, in some cases it was necessary to respond to a specific picture, in others – no.
“The current theory was that addiction requires a substance that alters brain neurochemistry. We now know that the brain can become addicted to anything.” – Timothy Fong, psychiatrist and addiction expert at the University of California
A German study in 2005 using this method showed that gamblers, like drug addicts, had a reduced susceptibility to euphoria: when they learned, test subjects were less active than usual in the brain’s reward system. According to a 2003 study by Yale University and a 2012 study by the University of Amsterdam, abnormal gamblers had low electrical activity in the forehead region – an area involved in risk assessment and instinct suppression.