Gambling is an enjoyable form of entertainment for many. Unfortunately, for a select few it can become an addiction with serious repercussions. Recognizing the warning signs, altering environments, regulating technology usage, and developing self-awareness are all crucial elements in breaking free from slot machine addiction.
Psychologists know that pushing buttons, even on simple slot machines, gives people a sense of control. But what exactly happens in their brain to give this illusion of control?
As soon as we successfully perform an activity that facilitates survival, such as eating, drinking or engaging in sexual activity, our brain releases small bursts of the neurotransmitter dopamine to reinforce and motivate these activities. Drugs like amphetamines release even larger surges of dopamine which further reinforce this connection between their use and pleasure, motivating us to repeat them again and again. Unfortunately, addiction builds up tolerance to such drugs leading to withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them altogether.
Accessing physical or digital slot machines is one of the biggest risk factors of gambling addiction. Found commonly in casinos, bars and convenience stores, slot machines provide easy access for those wanting to gamble, often leading them down an addictive path that leads to excessive betting behaviour that increases their risk.
Studies show that frequent slot machine use leads to cognitive distortion known as “chasing losses.” People suffering from gambling addiction may feel driven by pride, ego or despair to gamble even more in an attempt to make up the money lost through betting on slot machines.
The Reward System
Brain reward systems can be activated through many activities, from video gaming and gambling to slots. Of these forms of gambling, slots offer an especially engaging experience with their flashing lights, attractive graphics and tempting music that create an “slot machine zone”, potentially leading to excessive playing and financial loss.
Although all forms of gambling may be addictive, slot machines stand out as being particularly so. Slots machines are notoriously addicting; their widespread usage contributes to more problem gambling and addiction than any other form of gambling activity. Slot machines have even been described as the crack cocaine of gambling due to their design targeting multiple reward mechanisms in the brain.
Studies suggest that habit-forming processes control the speed of slot machine betting. Regular gamblers tend to place bets more quickly and with less variation over time as their experience grows, and their sensitivity for larger wins increases, leading them to take longer post-reinforcement pauses after wins.
The Odds of Winning
Gamblers don’t realize the odds of success at slot machines aren’t exactly as they appear; cognitive distortions prevent them from making this distinction between their odds and those of the game, however. Common cognitive distortions include seeing near misses as encouragement to keep playing (such as “gambler’s fallacy” of coin tosses with heads) or overestimating future wins based on past experiences, like those shared among friends or acquaintances.
This phenomenon causes people to overstimulate the reward system, leading them to overindulge and risk addiction. Slot machines create an atmosphere similar to video games which makes it hard for gamblers to step away even after having lost money; this combination may put gamblers into “slot machine zone”, an absorbing state where time slips away quickly while money disappears into thin air without conscious thought or awareness of its spendthrift nature.
The Odds of Losing
Studies have revealed that people with gambling problems tend to favor electronic gaming machines such as slot machines, poker machines and video lottery terminals over traditional casino games such as blackjack. This type of machine features flashing lights, arcade sounds and the potential of winning big jackpots which encourage continued play.
Researchers suspect that slot machines can lead people to overestimate their odds of winning and thus cause them to spend more than intended. This occurs due to the illusion of control where players believe they can alter their betting strategy or purchase additional tickets to alter their luck and change it for themselves.
Gambling addiction affects an overwhelming percentage of the population and can create serious difficulties in work, family life and finances. Addressing underlying beliefs and triggers can help individuals gain control over their urges to gamble; support groups may provide an additional safe space where experience sharing can occur and new coping strategies developed.