In last week’s blog, I wrote extensively about my history with Las Vegas. I am truly a fan of the town, and I look forward to visiting many more times in the future. This week I want to touch on the emotional experiences from the beginning to the end of the trips. This particular blog is several weeks in the making, in that I had to actually live through the reintegration back to mere mortal status.
In attempting to chronicle this less than pleasant re-entry, I was torn in how best to describe it. My brain kept oscillating back and forth between simple pragmatic explanation of my experiences and the more complicated neurophysiological explanations. What I ended up with, I hope, was a merging of the two schools of thought into a coherent blog.
The anticipation of a Vegas trip is unlike any other experience in my life. I revel in the thought of immersing myself in a culture that is foreign, excessive and absolutely enthralling. The visually appealing casinos, the wishful thinking for a royal flush, the incredible food, the attention garnered from dealers, hostesses and pit bosses, all provide a situation that reeks of overindulgence. I crave the adrenaline rush and find myself expanding the number of trips I take each year to feed the need. However, as we have heard time and time again, all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately that is a truism for Vegas vacations.
The process of departing Vegas is always a very emotionally charged experience regardless of your win loss ratio. However, that is not to say that a lucrative trip doesn’t stem the tide of the downside of the experience I’m about to describe. In the multitude of trips that I have taken to this favorite destination of mine, I don’t ever recall experiencing feelings of happiness upon departure. The most common internal states tend to be what I have termed Vegas Departure Syndrome or VDS. Others have referred to their negative exit emotions as the Vegas Dt’s or Vegas withdrawal. So what are the symptoms? They include but are not limited to fatigue, irritability, difficulty sleeping or staying awake, loss of appetite and general disinterest in things that typically bring you joy. If you went to your general practitioner or a psychiatrist within three days of your return, you would likely be diagnosed with depression (And probably high cholesterol and diminished liver function.). However, that is not really what is going on but the symptomology does parallel the psychopathology associated with Depression.
So, what are some of the reasons why we feel so low when we leave Las Vegas? Pragmatically, you are probably just tired as hell. However, I want to travel a little deeper into the heart of Vegas darkness and shed light on some other potential causes. In an attempt to not make this a blog relevant only to clinicians, I will limit the jargon and psychobabble. However, indulge me for the first few lines so that I can explain the possible underpinnings of Vegas Departure Syndrome.
The first potential precursor to VDS is the general and prolonged overstimulation of your senses. When in Las Vegas we are bombarded by various modes of sensory stimulation. Our visual and auditory senses are in overdrive, taking in the flashing lights, the buzzing, beeping and clanging of slots, the constant cattle like movements of all those around you. It is a complete 180 from general existence for this veteran Vegas goer. This change in environment is delightful in the moment, but does affect our neurophysiology or how our brain’s function. Most human brains are absolutely amazing organs. They adjust to input as best as they can (Increased levels of the neurotransmitter Dopamine, Serotonin and Norepinephrine in the mesocorticolimbic pathways of the brain. NERD). However, after extended periods of overstimulation a crash is inevitable.
The crash you experience is likely compounded by the effects of overindulgence of alcohol. I can say from experience, that it is extremely hard to turn down a free beverage when the gambling gods are not being very friendly to you. Frankly speaking, even if they are being friendly, I enjoy taking advantage of a fine cocktail or three when I am in the throes of Vegasy goodness. The excess is part of the draw for most Vegas regulars. When I’m there, my body is less like a temple and more like a poorly run brothel. When we push our systems to the limit, there will be repercussions. That is in essence what VDS represents. Simply put it is your body and mind expressing its dissatisfaction with your poor decision making (Insert Homer Simpson saying: “Stupid body and mind!”).
Even though we tend to experience all of the previously described negative emotions to one degree or another during our recovery, all is not lost. Generally, within 3-10 days your neurochemical levels should reset to baseline. This process can be expedited by improved sleep hygiene; diet and laying off the sauce for several days. Because of the strong emotional memories that are associated with Las Vegas (Amgydala region of the brain plays a large role in processing and storing those memories that evoked significant elevations in mood. GEEK!), it actually can be beneficial in a mental health sense, to begin contemplating future Vegas adventures. Evoking the anticipatory portion of the cycle can serve to elevate one’s mood and help power through the VDS symptomology.
So Vegas goers, show love to your Amgydalas and continue to live the dream. We deserve Las Vegas, anticipate coming adventures and embrace our recovery… until the next time we visit.