How dopamine subtly creates gambling addiction in poker players

How dopamine subtly creates gambling addiction in poker players

Earlier this week, poker player Charlie Carrel tweeted his thoughts on why he considers poker to be a form of addiction, mentioning dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in human reward. According to Carrell, the responsibility of dopamine in the formation of gambling addiction in poker players should not be underestimated – and many agree with him, although the information in his thread is presented rather superficially. We decided to dig deeper to figure out how right Charlie is and whether dopamine is really that dangerous for poker players. First of all, let’s take a closer look at the opinion of the topicstarter and other players.

Carrell and other poker players’ opinions on dopamine

So, Charlie started his thread with the story that when he stopped playing poker, he was able to look differently at the question that always worried him – why so many poker players try to leave poker and cannot?

The answer for Carrell turned out to be simple: dopamine, which is produced in large quantities during the game of poker, is to blame. The brain rewards us every time we win a pot, receive a large amount of money, or receive positive feedback from the outside.

At the same time, Charlie emphasized that his opinion is based on his own experience:

I went from getting 7-figure sums a year, traveling the world, participating in crazy games every day and constant congratulations from people to disappearing from the sight of people and forcing myself to participate in various meetings …

All because I fell into a dopamine pit. At some point, I found myself trying to replace the source of dopamine with another one with small rewards, and eventually settled on chess, in which I was finally able to feel my importance and develop through the rating system. And to break out of the cycle of dopamine addiction, I began to use “natural” methods – meditation, exercise and silence.

Despite the fact that Carrel coped with the problem, he developed an extremely negative attitude towards dopamine – he directly calls it a “damn drug” that causes addiction among poker players, for which no one prepares players (especially high-level ones). That is why they fall into it so easily.

This is not the whole problem – the environment praises the successes of those who have become addicted to dopamine, but this only makes their hole deeper.

The opinions of the players under this thread were divided. For example, poker player and coach Matthew Marinelli (Matthew Marinelli) agreed with Charlie, noting that it is not customary to talk about this issue:

This is an element that poker pros don’t usually discuss, but it has a large place in the experience and life of every player. For those who are interested in the issue, I recommend watching interview with psychiatrist Anna Lembke – she tells a lot of interesting things about dopamine and its effect on people.

Carpenter and poker fanatic under the nickname Ubernoob, a drug and alcohol addiction survivor, also supported Carrel’s opinion, referring to his experience:

As a drug addict on the road to recovery who is now striving to become a poker pro, I keep a close eye on my emotions as I play. Getting high when you win – feeling like you’ve gotten your dose – is very easy. But this is very similar to a roller coaster – if you do not control the situation, then you will quickly go crazy.

At the same time, an amateur poker player and a beginner poker streamer GOTDEMACEZ agreed with Charlie only partially:

I understand that dopamine has an effect in this situation, but I also think that many of us just love the game. Personally, I burned out and lost my passion for grinding to figure out that I could be happy playing 1, 2, 3, or 0 times a week when I felt the right mood. I think many of us just see the beauty of the game. It is very difficult, but that is why it is so enjoyable. When you discover this beauty for yourself and understand that you can never be perfect in it, then you just start to enjoy the process.

ABC photojournalist and poker player was more categorical about Carrell’s words Joel Doering (Joel Doering) – He believes that the presence or absence of dopamine addiction does not matter:

Who cares? Just enjoy your dopamine release and play as much poker as you like. You only have one life. As you get older, what do you want to be – sitting in a nursing home and thinking about all the meetings you’ve attended, or thinking back to the crazy poker victories you’ve had?

Biochemistry of addiction – the opinion of TopReg

What is dopamine and how does it work?

Dopamine – called dopamine in English – is a neurotransmitter, a biologically active substance that transfers certain information between nerve cells. Together with other neurotransmitters (the main of which is serotonin), dopamine participates in the work of the reward system in the human (and not only) brain, as well as the process of sleep, the formation and maintenance of mood, feelings of love and affection, concentration of attention and the performance of certain motor and cognitive functions. …

It was previously thought to be responsible for a sense of satisfaction in achieving a goal, but recent research (for example, from 2015 on the role of dopamine) show that in the reward system, by itself, it performs another task – it evokes a feeling of anticipation of a positive or negative outcome, thus participating in the formation of motivation. The feeling of satisfaction in people appears only when dopamine works in conjunction with serotonin.

For basic actions that are beneficial to the population – for example, sex or urination, during which a healthy body has the production of dopamine to strengthen the motivation to perform, or aversion, where the opposite mechanism works – the production of dopamine is genetically programmed. But for the rest, the formation of a dopamine stimulus depends on a complex of factors. The subjective sense of whether an action or its result is pleasant or unpleasant is of key importance. This is a very complex process, the most simplified version of which looks like this:

For negative actions, this process works through the formation of aversion or avoidance – by performing an unpleasant action, we produce dopamine to motivate us to avoid it in the future.

How to stimulate brain activity and the production of neurotransmitters

How is dopamine addiction formed?

Normally, a person receives small portions of dopamine in portions during life, but the healthy cycle can be disrupted if we have ways to produce dopamine all the time, and then we fall into the “dopamine loop”. In the modern world, there are enough such methods, they work in two main ways: either psychological attachment turns into physiological, or vice versa.

The first option can be observed in people who are addicted to video games, social networks, Internet activity, gambling and other activities, the starting point of which is psychological rather than physical impact. In this case, when the healthy cycle of satisfaction is violated, a person goes the following path:

  • Receives intangible rewards for actions – achievements, drops, reactions under posts, certain combinations in the game;
  • Forms a cycle of action -> result -> dopamine due to repetition;
  • Repeatedly repeats the action, receiving dopamine continuously or with very short pauses. At this stage, the mechanism of satisfaction breaks down – either the result becomes unimportant, since the production of dopamine begins already at the stage of action, or the result gives less and less dopamine, demanding to do more;
  • Stops receiving dopamine due to stopping the performance of the action due to the depletion of the body’s resources or the inability to continue it;
  • Looks for new sources of uninterrupted production of dopamine – if successful, then again goes through the loop, if unsuccessfully, then goes to the next stage;
  • Falls into the “dopamine pit” – due to a lack of dopamine and the inability to return to the original cycle, a person loses motivation and strength to perform actions. In this state, a person believes that his actions do not change anything, since they lead to one outcome – the loss of the ability to feel satisfaction.

The second variant of the violation of the reward system has similar chains, but it is based on the initial effect on the body of substances – alcohol or other drugs.

In either case, the end point of the chain may be depression or other mental illness. Of the independent methods of solving the problem, at present, the most popular is “dopamine fasting” – the refusal of stimuli and temptations for a while to restore the healthy functioning of the body. Carrel’s experience with meditation and the practice of silence, described in the previous section, is one form of such fasting.

It is important to remember that not all people are able to cope with dopamine addiction on their own, especially at the “pit” stage and in a situation when the reason for the search for “light” dopamine was initially some kind of psychological problem. In this case, there is only one way out – to contact specialists in the field of psychiatry, psychotherapy and psychology.

Are poker players addicted to dopamine?

To answer this question, let us first recall that the formation of the link action -> result -> dopamine differs in people and depends on their subjective ideas about pleasantness and feelings. Because of this, poker players may have several options for both a healthy dopamine chain and an unhealthy one. The simplest and most obvious ones:

  • Game -> Winning Hands -> Dopamine – if the cycle is broken, then the person strives to win the distributions as often as possible, regardless of whether they bring profit or not, whether they are played correctly or not, and so on;
  • Game -> Winning Money -> Dopamine – if the cycle is broken, then the person strives to earn as much as possible, losing the sense of satisfaction and increasing the demand for dopamine, the more the more money he wins. At the same time, a person often does not care how much he earned – he is satisfied not by an increase in welfare, but only by the win itself;
  • Game -> getting titles / trophies -> dopamine – if the cycle is broken, then a person strives for regalia, regardless of the consequences, does not feel satisfaction until he receives a title, cup, belt or other trophy;
  • Game -> work on the game -> dopamine – if the cycle is broken, then a person constantly strives to improve his skills and feels satisfaction only when he finds and solves problems.

An important element of each of the healthy cycles is not the main role of poker satisfaction in a person’s life. This means that if a person gets satisfaction in any of the cycles described above or in several at once, but at the same time they are not the only sources of satisfaction for him, and can also be easily replaced by any other actions, then the player does not have a dopamine addiction to poker.

However, if winning in distributions, winning money, getting titles and / or trophies, the very process of playing or improving it becomes the main source of satisfaction for a person, he ceases to feel it from other actions and a feeling of happiness and comfort appears only when he is in contact with poker. , this clearly indicates the presence of addiction to the game.

To find out if you have a dopamine addiction to poker, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is poker, or any aspect of it, a primary source of satisfaction for me?
  • Am I interested in something else on the same level as poker or some aspect of it?
  • Can I neglect poker or some aspect of it, and will I feel comfortable doing it?
  • Am I neglecting other activities for the sake of poker or any aspect of it?
  • Am I angry if I lose access to poker or any aspect of it?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, try taking a long break from the game and assessing your condition. This experience will help you understand if you can cope with a destructive tendency on your own or if you need professional help.

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