Hello friends! I am Dr. Drushik Vakil and I am hugely fanatic about sports. I am sure by the time you read this article, IPL will be running in full fledge, being sponsored by a Fantasy Sports Company.

Past few years, the sporting experience has changed dramatically. You can now watch live sports with multiple camera angles in full HD with viewing angles as good as that of umpire or referee. With mikes all over the place, and the addition of virtual audio has brought the experience of watching a sport on TV as good as live.

Personally, I have always been excited about the IPL fantasy league. It makes me feel as if I am a part of the team, playing live cricket. The nail-biting finishes and edge-ofthe-seat thrillers make me nervous all the time. I had always wondered about the “kick” people get out of betting on something. I guess my questions were answered the day I joined the fantasy league. It’s probably the sheer excitement and temptation of winning, especially the contests having monetary benefits.

Though, it is still under research, whether dopamine is the only and/or chief molecule responsible for the betting behaviour, early theories strongly point towards the role dopamine plays in betting. It is noteworthy to mention that, the brain of a chronic gamblers behaves to betting in a similar way the brain of amphetamine abusers behaves when given amphetamine, releasing lots of dopamine.

Dopamine is like a switch to the brain which makes us happy. Evolution made it necessary for the brain to have a happiness switch which is triggered by activities keeping us alive or helping pass on our genes. It is like a little reward our brain gives us, so as to develop healthy habits. People are hard wired to respond to the stimulus that chance provides in the same way they respond to survival necessities.

At times, some events cause a surge in dopamine release, which would eventually build a resistance to dopamine, consequently raising the threshold for its release.

Betting, being unpredictable causes a similar effect. It turns on the switch to dopamine, causing a wave of happiness and thrill. However, soon the brain gets accustomed to the increased levels of dopamine, continuously craving for it to get happy. This is what sets off the vicious cycle of becoming a regular better. The brain becomes conditioned into wanting more and more to trigger its reward system.

It is not just the fact that a lot of dopamine is being released, but the way in which the brain seeks that specific stimulation to trigger its reward centre. It is like being in a quicksand, the more you enter inside it, the more it becomes difficult to remove yourself from it.

Unlike other activities, giving only dopamine as a reward, this also has the added incentive of monetary and physical gains as reward, which makes it more addicting.

Traditional betting games and its modern equivalent of fantasy sports use this psyche to make us more difficult to quit. If you observe most of the times, some winners get prize less than the entry fee/cost of playing the game. It disguises loses as win, to keep the positive feedback system working and making us play more.

Whether winning or losing, our brain tends to perceive our loss smaller than our gains, thus kicking off a reaction of consequential increase in the stakes so as to win more or cover our losses. This reaction only ends when there is a sufficient deterrent to stop it, like no more money to bet or high debt or a jail time.

This varies from person to person. At times, despite the deterrent, the urge and withdrawal symptoms are so strong that the person often goes to any length, like a drug addict, to get his score. This has triggered a massive interdisciplinary research into the science behind gambling from a neuro-chemistry, behavioural science, economics, biology and cognitive point of view.

Based on the recent research in the field and preliminary knowledge of its pathogenesis, gambling/ problematic betting has been included in ICD-11 and DSM 5 as Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. DSM-5 defines gambling disorder as a (constant/not going away) and repeating filled with problems gambling behaviour leading to (related to medicine and science) significant damage/weakness or worry and depression.

While we enjoy this sports season and Diwali playing fantasy sports or online poker or teen-Patti, I would suggest the following ways to hack your brain so as not to fall into this trap of high-risk, high reward dopamine releasing trap. If possible, have a bet not involving much monetary or materialistic reward. Take part in free contests where you can only win you bragging rights or bet with your friend just for the thrill of it and some banter.

This way, there would not be an external factor other than dopamine to increase your chance to get addicted. If want to bet with real money, then set up a weekly, monthly and per bet limit, just like a budget and adhere to it strictly. This will prevent you from being chasing your loss, by overspending your money and thus save you from adverse financial condition. And if you win, control your impulse to raise the stakes above your budget.

No matter how you bet, do not make it a daily or regular habit. Be sporadic and keep your dopamine guessing. This way you will be able to get thrill without being accustomed to it. Have a sober companion, like with substance abusers, to keep you in check and be open to consulting a professional when you think it is affecting your life.

Disclosure: I have not been sponsored by anyone from the pro or anti-gambling organisations. Though, I have tried to keep it as factual as possible, this is for infotainment purpose only. This is not a research paper or commentary and contains my viewpoint for the science behind betting.

There are many theories I have not covered and may not know, so feel free to contact me at dr.drushik.vakil@ for further comments.

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– Dr. Drushik Vakil


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