The act of gambling involves wagering something of value (money, goods, services) on an event based on chance with the intent of winning a prize. There are a number of risks associated with gambling and it should be treated as an addiction. This article discusses how gambling can become problematic, the causes of pathological gambling and what to do if you think you or someone you know has a gambling problem.
The term ‘gambling’ is used to describe any activity that involves risking something of value on an event whose outcome depends on chance, such as a football match or scratchcard game. It may be done for fun or for financial gain, or both. Gambling can be a dangerous pastime if not managed responsibly and is often linked to other behavioural disorders, such as compulsive eating or alcohol abuse.
Research into the psychology of gambling has shown that there are a number of factors which can contribute to its development and maintenance. These include genetics, brain chemistry and social context. There is also a strong association between mood disorders and gambling disorder, with studies showing that depressive symptoms tend to precede the onset of gambling disorder.
Some people are predisposed to develop harmful gambling behaviour due to their genes, which can impact the way they process reward information, control impulses and weigh up risk. This can be complicated by the fact that many societies regard gambling as a normal part of life and it can be difficult for individuals to recognise that they have a problem.
The risk factors for gambling disorder are linked to family and peer support, economics, the availability of gambling facilities and the environment in which people live. There is a high prevalence of gambling disorder in people who are socially isolated and have low incomes. People who have a history of depression are at greater risk of developing gambling problems and mood disorders, such as anxiety, are associated with an increased likelihood of gambling disorder.
There are a range of treatments for gambling disorder, which include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to change unhealthy gambling habits and to resist urges. It can also teach people to confront irrational beliefs, such as the notion that a series of losses or a near miss on a slot machine is a sign that a big win is imminent.
Other treatment options for gambling disorder include family therapy and marriage, career and credit counseling. These can help individuals work through the specific issues that have been created by their gambling habit and build a strong foundation for repairing relationships and finances. It is also possible to find support in a gambling recovery group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you are worried about your own or a friend’s gambling, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Talk to a trusted relative or contact the GamCare helpline for non-judgemental advice and support.