The number of individuals addicted to gambling in the US has been increasing for decades. The most obvious cause for the increase is that gambling overall has been increasing. More gambling means more gambling addiction. Still, most people gamble without becoming addicted. Why one individual becomes addicted while another does not is not completely understood. But there are combinations of risk factors, social factors, psychological factors, and physiological factors that may all contribute to gambling addiction.
Besides being perceived as socially acceptable, opportunities to gamble are present in every corner market, on the web, and ads for casinos, race tracks and state lotteries are constant. Further, gambling is often sanctioned by local and state governments and is positioned as a source of income for humanitarian social programs and state educational programs.
From a chemical perspective, gambling is a psycho-stimulant, like a drug. It has an anesthetic effect and the same psychoactive properties as cocaine and heroin. When gambling, the same chemicals in the brain are affected (adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins). Individuals addicted to gambling are not driven to gamble for money, but rather seek the “high” through the psychoactive drug-like effects offered by the act of gambling.
Further, just like drug addiction, when someone addicted to gambling is forced to quit because they are out of money, they face the same physical withdrawal symptoms as those addicted to drugs. The pain of withdrawal is why otherwise working professionals, loving spouses and parents with no criminal background will turn to crime to feed their addiction.