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Learn About the Brain Chemistry Behind Problem Gambling and Alcohol

Published: April 4, 2022

Did you know that compulsive gambling can activate the same pathways in the brain as a dependency on alcohol? With April recognized as Alcohol Awareness Month, Before You Bet is educating Ohioans on recent research that highlights similarities in brain chemistry between alcohol use and compulsive gambling and sharing available resources for those who may need them. 

Whether you’re a prevention specialist, a mental health advocate, or someone who may be struggling with a problem with gambling or compulsive gambling, this important information can help Ohioans learn more about the factors involved with problem gambling to help create healthier futures for all. 

According to Science Daily, a study conducted in the U.K. found that two brain areas – the insula and nucleus accumbens – are highly active and showing more movement when someone is struggling with a problem with gambling.

Activity in these areas is found deep in the center of the brain, where decision-making, reward, and impulse control are located. This activity has been previously linked to drug and alcohol dependency and not problem gambling. These findings are critical for the community to see that problem gambling is like other addictive health conditions and should be taken just as seriously.

Just like someone struggling with using alcohol or drugs, there are some signs that can indicate when someone is struggling with gambling, although they might not be as obvious. Warning signs can include: 

  • Gambling more often and/or with more money
  • Withdrawing from relationships
  • Lying about gambling behavior to friends and family
  • Borrowing money to relieve financial distress
  • Gambling more to make up for previous losses

If you believe you or someone you know might have a problem with gambling, free resources are available at and by calling the free, confidential, 24/7 helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or texting 4HOPE to 741741.

And if you or someone you know needs mental health resources on alcohol or drug use, there are many resources available from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

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