The FIFA World Cup is one of the world's biggest and most anticipated sporting events. Held every 4 years, this month-long tournament pits 32 of the best teams in the world against each other for the title of world champion. The games are filled with excitement, drama, and surprises, and millions of people around the world tune in to watch.
Most people who bet on the Word Cup or other sporting events do so for fun and in moderation.
Gambling releases a “feel-good” chemical in the brain called dopamine, which can lead to addiction.
People with gambling disorders are more connected to their brain’s reward system but have less activity in the prefrontal cortex, meaning they struggle to control impulses.
Biological, mental health, environmental, stress-related, and other factors may play a role in developing a gambling problem.
It's possible to break free from a gambling addiction with the right support, but people should seek help early to minimize any long-term repercussions.
While most people enjoy watching the World Cup for the love of the game, others see it as an opportunity to gamble on how many goals will be scored, the outcomes of individual matches, and which team will win overall. And while some people place a few dollars on a wager, others put down hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, although gambling is fun and exciting for most, there's also a dark side, as gambling can negatively affect the brain.
How gambling affects the brain?
When people gamble, their brains are flooded with dopamine — a neurotransmitter released when you do something enjoyable. Hitting the jackpot or winning a bet creates a rush of this feel-good chemical, producing an exciting, euphoric high.
The dopamine hit makes the gambler feel good, and they want to experience the same pleasure again and again. Sometimes, people with serious gambling addictions can become caught in what scientists term "dark flow" — a trance-like state where they're so focused on the next bet or score that they no longer realize what's happening around them.
But the brain becomes accustomed to dopamine and builds up a tolerance, so getting the same gratification is increasingly difficult. The brain's reward system is overused, and betting the same amounts doesn't get the same results.
Consequently, people gamble more frequently or chase bigger bets in hopes of achieving a more intense rush. Before they know it, gambling is an addiction and can spiral into a dangerous cycle of debt, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts that are difficult to break free from.
It can be a struggle to stop gambling. And as with drug addiction, compulsive gamblers may also experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and depression if they attempt to quit. That's why it is important to identify and address the problem as soon as possible to minimize any long-term damage.
Brain changes related to gambling
The brain is incredibly complex, and scientists are still trying to understand the exact changes in people with gambling addiction. However, studies show that activity in certain areas of the brain directly influences gambling behaviors, including:
The prefrontal cortex — This frontal area is responsible for restraining impulses, decision-making, and risk assessment.
The ventral striatum — This area is associated with achieving rewards and positive reinforcement. It's the "reward center" or the brain.
People with a gambling disorder are more connected to the brain's reward system and have less activity in the prefrontal cortex, meaning they struggle to control impulses.
There may be differences in how the prefrontal cortex functions, causing people to make risky decisions without considering the consequences. As a result, compulsive gamblers may continue to play even when the odds are against them, and they've already lost large amounts of money.
The ventral striatum is also less active in those with gambling addictions, meaning they reduced activation in the brains' reward pathways. This effect is described by the reward deficiency model.
The model suggests that people prone to gambling and other forms of addiction don't receive the same satisfaction from reward-stimulating activities. Therefore, the primary interest in gambling is making up for this shortfall, not the money they win.
Why do some people develop a gambling problem?
The occasional bet on a sporting event like the World Cup, Super Bowl, or the Grand National is usually fun and harmless. However, some people can become addicted to gambling with devastating effects on their finances, health, relationships, work, and social life. But why does this happen?
There's no single answer, as multiple factors likely contribute to someone developing a gambling addiction. They include:
Biological traits — Some people may be genetically predisposed to addictive behaviors, and their brains may react differently to activities such as gambling.
Mental health — People struggling with depression or anxiety may gamble to cope with difficult emotions.
Environment and upbringing — Gambling is prevalent in some cultures, and it's an accepted leisure activity that's not hidden from children.
Stress — Financial, employment, and relationship pressures may cause people to turn to gambling as an escape.
Personality — Risk-takers or thrill-seekers may be more susceptible to the highs and lows of gambling.
Ultimately, anyone can become addicted to gambling, and it's critical to be aware of the signs and symptoms so that you can seek help early. But, with the right support, it’s possible to break free from this destructive cycle and reclaim control over your life.
Betting on the Word Cup is usually harmless and fun. But for some, gambling addiction is a serious problem that can have devastating consequences for individuals and those around them.
While there's no single cause of compulsive gambling, biological, mental health, environmental, stress-related, and personality factors may play a role.
If you recognize any signs of gambling addiction in yourself or your loved ones, it's important to seek help as early as possible. Although challenging, with support, people can break free and enjoy life again.