When talking about the link between competitive sports and problem gambling, the adrenaline-rush that can be part of an athlete’s experience is often brought up. We’ve all heard of the “runner’s high” and have seen some pretty impressive feats of athleticism that may be due, in part, to the athlete getting a boost of adrenaline at the right moment. Adrenaline is a neat thing, and can flood the body during a “fight or flight” situation. It can increase one’s speed, strength, mental acuity, and more. It makes sense that, if you’re about to be hit by a bus (or, let’s say, a linebacker), all of these functions might come in handy. If this same phenomenon happens in a sporting event, amazing things can happen. The experience can be intense, as well as intensely rewarding. A sense of euphoria can occur.
And like other “intoxicating” experiences, the feeling can sometimes wear off over time. It takes more and more to feel the same level of excitement. We see this with alcohol and with other substances of abuse. Over time and exposure, tolerance increases, and more of the substance is required to get the same affect. With gambling, this looks a little different. For some, it’s a matter of increasing the amount they bet in order to feel the same. Someone who played $10 a hand on Blackjack might start playing $25 or $50 a hand. A Bingo player might go from managing 1 or 2 cards at a time to filling their whole table with cards. The way people bet might also reflect a tolerance response. For example, a poker player might start “playing blind,” or betting without seeing their hand, in order to increase their excitement level.
What does this have to do with athletes? Athletes who frequently experience that runner’s high, may need to “up the ante” to replicate a feeling they have become accustomed to. A good gambler bets only what they can afford to lose. They don’t increase the amount they bet in order to keep the adrenaline flowing.