When you stop gambling, you may notice that your urge to place bets or go to your local casino becomes severely intense. It can almost feel painful to resist your urge. If you’re committed to changing your gambling behavior, you may be worried these unbearable urges are your new normal. The best way to overcome your gambling problem is to understand why you have urges to gamble and why it can be hard to say “no” to them.
What Is a Gambling Urge?
A person can feel an urge (or strong desire) to do anything — from eating a sugary donut to stealing a car. A gambling urge is simply a strong impulse to place a bet. Even before you decided to stop gambling, you experienced urges to gamble. However, at that time, they may not have been as noticeable since you gave in to them.
Gamblers have described urges as compulsions, adrenaline rushes, and spikes of excitement. Once you recognize how your gambling urges make you feel, you can more easily overcome them. It’s important to note that while the urge to gamble may feel overwhelming, you mustn’t give in to it. The urge will only return once you’ve stopped gambling.
How Do Gambling Urges Affect the Brain?
Understanding how your urges affect your brain is key to your recovery. Experiencing an urge to gamble can be very uncomfortable when trying to change your behavior. Many people with gambling problems relapse as they seek ways to alleviate their discomfort. However, giving in to the urge only strengthens it and reinforces the gambling habit.
There are three main parts of the brain that are involved in urges. The Attention Network (made up of the Habit Hub and Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (dACC)) latches onto gambling cues (such as gambling commercials or the sounds of a casino) and makes them prominent in your mind.
Because the Attention Network is consumed with processing the gambling cues, it is not communicating with the Top-Down Control Network (which includes the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC)). The mPFC is responsible for regulating emotions, but since the dACC is not activating it, it is not trying to reduce your urges to gamble.
While the Attention Network and Top-Down Control Network are failing to communicate, the Insula (the part of the brain that processes physical sensations and emotions) is telling you to do something about the discomfort you are feeling (i.e., go gamble).
With so many parts of your brain focused on gambling cues and initiating negative body sensations in response to these cues, it can be challenging to avoid gambling. The good news is that it is possible to reduce your urges and feel relief from your gambling disorder.
Do Gambling Urges Last Forever?
Urges come in ebbs and flows because your brain cannot hold onto an urge indefinitely. If you can wait long enough, the desire to gamble will pass. To “surf the urge,” consider doing something else in place of gambling, such as practicing meditation, going for a bike ride, calling a friend, or participating in cognitive behavioral therapy for gambling.
While your gambling urges may feel intense right now, the longer you go without gambling, the fewer urges you will experience. This is even true when you see gambling cues that used to trigger you. How do your urges become less intense? The brain constantly changes, and your Attention Network becomes less sensitive to gambling triggers when you avoid gambling behaviors.
Find Relief From Your Gambling Urges With Professional Help
If you’re currently struggling with gambling urges, know that the discomfort does not last forever. Recovery is possible when you have the right help. Call 1-800 GAMBLER today to receive specialized help for problem gamblers. We can connect you with support groups and explain your professional treatment options so that you can enjoy a brighter future tomorrow.