Is Your Internet Addiction Making You Gamble? What Can You Do About It?

It’s the last day of Safer Gambling Week so we’ve decided to explore the problem of internet addiction and how it may relate to gambling. This isn’t to downplay the seriousness of gambling addiction, and internet addiction is often equally as damaging. But, you might not know that because no one’s addressing the problem.

The reason they’re not addressing it is probably because most of us use the internet too much. There’s no one left to help. We’re a world (I’d say nation, but this is way more than a UK phenomenon) of people with bruised noses who fall asleep with our phones in our face. It’s the whole dopamine thing again.

Why we struggle to control our internet use

Social media is addictive by design – the people who created social media made it addictive on purpose. Not necessarily because their original intention was to trick or con us, but because they wanted people to use their platforms and they tested different ways to get people to stay online. Unfortunately, that meant making the technologies addictive.

To find out more on this subject, I recommend that you watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It’s a great documentary about the psychology and manipulation behind some of the internet’s everyday technologies. It doesn’t focus on the addictive side of the internet per se, but it does offer insights into why we’re so addicted to it.

E.g., did you know that infinite scrolling (like what happens on your Facebook feed) makes you feel as if you’re about to get a reward (in this case, an insight into the social lives of your peers – a very important nugget of information for social animals like us). As you scroll through your feed anticipating the discovery of a titbit of social currency, your brain releases dopamine. That makes you feel great!

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Once you’ve watched it, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it should be part of the curriculum in schools across the world.

Social media right now is the “They put cocaine in Coca-Cola?!” phenomenon of the 21st century.

23rd-century people will look at us and think we were mad – they might even be reading this blog as part of their history assignment. Hey 23rders! How’s it going? Hope you don’t live underwater…although, I think that’s still 700 years away for you.

Anyway, back to the point. Social media is giving you the same quick blasts of pleasure that the slot machines give you: dopamine in the anticipation of a reward. This is where you can begin to see the similarity between gambling addiction and internet addiction. They’re both giving you the feeling that you’re about to get something good.

We’ve evolved to seek out rewards, so both slots and social media are effectively hijacking some ancient part of our brains.

What internet addiction and gambling addiction have in common

In the natural world, rewards don’t come around so easily. Instant gratification doesn’t exist. At the same time, we’re hyper attuned to spot the things that will ensure our survival, are motivated to exploit them and to continue to exploiting them until we don’t need them anymore. When we spot those things, that’s when we get the dopamine hit naturally.

E.g., we might spot a sweet orange on a tree, then the dopamine spikes and we’re driven to go to that orange and eat it, maybe eat a few more. Then, as we eat them, slowly, our leptin levels (the satiety hormone) increase and we feel full because we have the nutrients and calories we need. Then we stop looking for more oranges.

Some internet technologies and some gambling games hijack that initial part of that process by tricking the brain into thinking it’s close to something important (Am I about to see an orange, or get some social information, or get some money?), keeping you interested by pumping your dopamine receptors. If they didn’t have those intermittent rewards, it would train your brain that there’ll be no rewards, and your brain would stop finding the stimulus important. They keep baiting you and egging you on with little rewards (Ooooo, John’s just been fired. Yay, I just won £10! Someone just liked my post.).

But there’s no cut-off switch.

The leptin at least tells you to stop eating (Did you know junk food manufactures design food to override these sort of body cues?).

But the scrolling is infinite and the wheels spin for as long as you have money.

It’s scary.

How being addicted to the internet can trigger you to gamble

If you have an internet addiction, you’ll be familiar with this routine: Open phone, scroll through your social media of choice (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, TikTok, etc.), get bored because you’ve been doing it for ages, close phone, feel bored, open phone, scroll through social media again. So you get bored of scrolling, put your phone down, get bored, use your phone to stem the boredom.

It happens because your brain’s all out of whack. It gets bored so easily because the internet has been training you to crave short bouts of activity that end in small rewards.

It’s trained you to want instant gratification.

But there’s only so much of one type of instant gratification you can take. If you’re opening Reddit for the 100th time today, you’ll be feeling like you want something new, but your brain will also be craving that steady stream of dopamine you’ve been drip-feeding it. If you’re bored of Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever, there’s always another place to turn that will give you the same rush but in a novel way…

…yep! You guessed it, the online casinos.

So if you’re finding that you’re gambling more frequently, but it’s connected to a previous bout of internet binging that’s become boring, it could be that you’re just substituting one addiction for another.

What to do if you think you’re experiencing internet addiction?

Install a usage tracker on your phone

The first thing to do is to install a usage tracker on your phone to see how much time you’re actually spending online. It will probably surprise you. Even if you spend at little as 10-minutes a day, that’s 2.5 days a year online. And let’s be honest, how many people only spend 10-minutes a day online?

More like 2 hours, and that’s me pretending I’m not as bad as you. 2-hours a day works out to around 30-days a year of non-stop internet use. That’s like a whole month!

Eeek!

Install an app blocker on all your devices

Once you realise that you’re wasting a lot of time online but you have nothing to show for it, except a short attention span and bad eyesight, you’ll want to start taking action. For most of us, the internet is an essential part of life: we have to write emails, do zoom meeting, connect with family and friends.

It’s not really something we can cut out entirely.

Fortunately, there are apps that will block other apps for set times. That means you can block your web browsers, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok apps, and any other internet distraction you have.

My personal favourite is GetColdTurkey. I’ve been using it on my laptop for at least a decade (the same laptop too. It’s an absolute beast and isn’t even running slow yet). I haven’t found a way to get around it either. You need to have a good grasp of computers to disable it, something about root key or something.

Do a 24-hour detox

Cut out all internet for 24-hours and see what happens. I include TV and video games too.

It’s quite strange.

First of all, you feel mind-numbingly bored and you think, “I’ll just browse Reddit quickly…damn it!” and it repeats like that for a while. Then you start to find “boring” tasks, like washing up, interesting. You start picking up all those things you were neglecting before.

It doesn’t take long to feel the change in attitude towards doing tasks that don’t have an immediate reward. Suddenly, you start to focus on your long-term goals more than what’s happening on Facebook. In fact, you start to wonder why you even care about social media at all.

And the changes start in as little as 24-hours! The longer you do your internet fast, the more productive you feel. It’s great, and it’s definitely worth trying if you feel you’re spending too much of your valuable time online.

The internet has its place, but it should never take over.

Get professional help

Finally, if your habit is particularly serious, there is professional help available. Unfortunately, internet addiction isn’t as widely recognised as it should be, but there are still places you can go, e.g., The Priory (a well-known addiction specialist) have internet addiction therapists.

I expect in the next 10-years it will become an increasingly pressing issue.

A picture of signage in a window that says, "hooked"