How does gambling affect the brain?

Video credit reference: Balodis, I. & Querney, D. (2019). Retrieved from

When you gamble, your brain’s reward system lights up, making you feel excited. You can also feel excited just thinking about gambling or being reminded of gambling (such as seeing an ad for your favourite casino or online site, pay day, memories of your last win or hearing others talk about their gambling wins).

However, it can be difficult to recognize when it’s time to stop playing. There are many reasons why people have trouble stopping gambling, including:

  • Rewards such as excitement, social participation and enjoyment
  • Trying to win money back (chasing losses)
  • Game features that keep you playing

Practicing safer play habits can help. But, some individuals may begin to develop problems with gambling. When this happens, it’s important to seek help.

Brain Connections, a site that translates gambling research into an easy-to-understand way, describes how gambling can spiral from an enjoyable pastime into an addiction. Gambling can cause new habits to form that can be hard to break. This can lead an individual to feel out of control.  Watch the video for more information on how this unfolds.


A gambling addiction can be devastating. This disease affects a person’s self-worth, their relationships with others, their financial livelihood, and so much more. Problem and compulsive gambling is referred to as a “hidden addiction”, because suffering persons often appear normal on the outside. Like alcohol and substance abuse, the disorder does not discriminate and affects persons from all backgrounds and walks of life.

In this TEDx Talk video, you'll hear the shocking story of how a free £5 bet led to a full blown addiction to online gambling. How someone who had it all could loose everything, including his job, his family and his home and then find hope and restoration.

Justyn Rees Larcombe had everything. Highly successful fast-track career. Beautiful wife and three sons. Having lost it all through a relentless addiction to online gambling, he is now campaigning for education and a change in laws, and shares his wisdom for those who may be struggling with secret habits, compulsions and additions of all types.

The Slot Machine: What every player needs to know

Check out this animated video developed and assessed scientifically by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO; formerly known as Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre) in collaboration with Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG).  Presented are two scenarios about how slot machines work. One explains how they actually work, while the other illustrates a popular myth.

Is betting taking the fun out of sports? | The Agenda (TVO Today)

Feb 15, 2023
Ontario is all in on sports betting. And with billions in wagers and millions in revenue already, the advertising battle for your money is fierce. But is it already undermining the love of the game? The Agenda's host Steve Paikin debates that question on this episoide with Brian Masse, NDP MP for Windsor-West; Chelsea Rodrigues, problem gambling counsellor at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare; Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association; and Deirdre Querney, registered social worker with the City of Hamilton's Alcohol, Drug & Gambling Services, and co-creator of Brain Connections, a project to share information about gambling and the brain.

The Agenda with Steve Paikin is TVO Today's flagship current affairs program, devoted to exploring the social, political, cultural and economic issues that are changing our world. See more about The Agenda with Steve Paikin here.


EPIC Global Solutions is a UK based gambling harm prevention organization which delivers solutions to help prevent the destructive effects of gambling-related harm.  In these personal recovery stories they had produced for National Recovery Month 2023, you'll hear some lived experiences of gambling-related harms and journeys to recovery.

Marc Williams talks about the huge role that family and those close to him played in his path to recovery. Marc's pro football career was affected by problem gambling but he's now five years in recovery.


Alan Smart explains his road to recovery and highlights the value of sharing lived experience. He found the answers he needed when he agreed to do something he initially didn't want to do... attend a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. There, he heard four words that he believes changed his life.


Mark Murray explains what he does every day to ensure his wellbeing remains in the best possible place, in the hope that it can benefit others who are also seeking recovery.


Dan Spencer shares his lived experience of how gambling disorder can co-exist alongside other mental health concerns such as depression, stress and anxiety.  Dan found that anxiety paired with several other issues to extend his experience of gambling-related harm over a 16-year period.