Gambling is an activity whereby a person wagers something of value on the outcome of a random event, with a prize being offered for success. It is a behaviour which can have many negative consequences on a person’s life, including social, health and financial problems.
Often, when someone is gambling, they will be exposed to a wide range of social and health issues, from money-laundering, debt and a variety of illicit activities. In addition, some people may feel the urge to gamble as a way of escaping from everyday worries or as a way of de-stressing. For this reason, gambling can be a dangerous activity to engage in, even if it is legal.
Problem gambling can impact anyone, at any age or stage of life, from children to older adults. It can be triggered by factors such as:
A biological component, whereby gambling triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which is associated with feelings of pleasure. This can make a person feel good about themselves, which can create a cycle where they seek out gambling more and more to get that ‘feel-good’ feeling again.
Another factor is variable reinforcement, whereby the rewards for gambling are not consistent and can be intermittent. This can also create a desire for gambling to continue to receive those rewards, especially when they do not come as often as expected.
Psychologically, gambling can also lead to an illusion of control and irrational beliefs, which can increase compulsive gambling behaviour. These unhealthy thought patterns can be challenging to break, but a variety of techniques exist to help a person identify and change these unhealthy thoughts and habits.
A key element of changing a gambling habit is to learn to manage money responsibly. To do this, you should only ever gamble with disposable income (and not money that needs to be saved for bills or rent). Additionally, it is a good idea to set money and time limits before you begin gambling and stick to them. Finally, never chase your losses, as this will only lead to bigger and more frequent losses.
Lastly, it is important to recognise when gambling has become problematic and to seek help as soon as possible. This can be done by answering the following questions:
1. Do you find yourself avoiding friends and family or lying about your gambling?
2. Do you spend more time gambling than on other healthy activities, like spending time with friends and family or exercising?
3. Is your gambling affecting other areas of your life, such as work or home life?
4. Do you ever feel the need to gamble in order to cope with stress or negative emotions?
5. Do you ever feel that your gambling is out of control, even after making a commitment to stop?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then your gambling is likely to be a problem and you should seek help as soon as possible.
While it is not currently possible to buy a medication that will treat gambling disorder, there are various psychological therapies available which can help. These therapies focus on identifying and changing unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviours. Examples of these therapies include: