Gambling involves placing something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the intent of winning something of equal or greater value. This includes playing casino games such as poker and roulette, but also can include activities like buying lottery tickets or scratch-off tickets, predicting sports events, or even office pool betting. Problem gambling is considered a form of addiction that can have serious consequences for health, work performance, finances, and relationships.
People with mental health problems are more at risk of harmful gambling. They often gamble as a way to distract themselves from their negative feelings, such as depression or anxiety, or as a way to try to cope with them. People with financial problems are also at risk of problem gambling, and can be more likely to spend money they don’t have.
It’s important to understand what makes a person vulnerable to problem gambling, so that we can better identify and treat those who struggle with it. There are a number of factors that may lead to gambling problems, including a family history of gambling or other forms of addictive behavior, such as substance use disorders or eating disorders. Having a genetic predisposition to gambling is also linked with a higher likelihood of developing a problem.
The brain is highly sensitive to reward, and is stimulated by the promise of a win when it’s exposed to a gamble. This is why gamblers are often more excited about their wins than they are about their losses. However, there is a dark side to this, as the neurotransmitter dopamine is released when we gamble, and can cause us to feel excited or even elated even when we lose.
A key to avoiding gambling problems is to set and stick to clear spending limits. It’s best to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose, and only for as long as you are comfortable. It’s also important to not be tempted by free cocktails and other casino perks, as these are designed to tempt you into spending more money. Finally, never chase your losses – this is known as the “gambler’s fallacy” and it will usually only lead to bigger losses.
If you know someone who has a gambling problem, it’s important to reach out and offer support. Encourage them to seek treatment and try to help them set boundaries in managing their finances, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you see signs that they are struggling. There are also a number of peer support groups available, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model used by Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also helpful to find a mentor who has successfully overcome gambling addiction, and can offer advice and encouragement. This can be a difficult journey, and you may occasionally slip up, but it’s important to stay committed to recovery. For more information on how to stop gambling, talk to a debt advisor at StepChange for free, confidential advice.