Gambling is a widespread activity that involves risking something of value (money, possessions, time) on an event with a random outcome. While it is generally considered a recreational activity, there are some who struggle with gambling. Some develop a serious problem known as gambling disorder, defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an enduring pattern of excessive and problematic gambling that leads to distress or impairment. While it is common to associate the word ‘gambling’ with games of chance, many forms of gambling involve some form of skill.
There are many factors that can contribute to problem gambling. These include:
Some people are more prone to gambling than others, particularly those with preexisting mental health issues. This is because these conditions can affect how the brain processes reward information, and may impact impulse control and decision-making. People with mental health problems can also be more susceptible to stress and depression, which may trigger gambling behaviours as a way to cope or distract themselves.
Those with addictions to drugs and alcohol are also more at risk of developing a gambling problem. This is because these substances can cause changes to the functioning of the brain, including alterations in neurotransmitters that help regulate emotions and control behaviour.
While it is possible to overcome a gambling problem, it can be challenging. The first step is recognizing that there is a problem. Once this is accomplished, a person can seek treatment to break the cycle and rebuild their lives. A number of treatments are available, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps individuals change the way they think about gambling and how they respond to it.
Another important factor in overcoming gambling is strengthening support networks. This can be done by making new friends outside of the gambling community, by enrolling in a class or education program, or by joining a sports team or book club. It is also a good idea to seek out peer support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step recovery model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Another important consideration is financial management. It is recommended that people only gamble with money that they can afford to lose, and to not use any money that needs to be saved or used for bills or rent. Keeping track of spending and setting time limits for gambling can also be helpful. In addition, it is a good idea to not gamble when you are feeling depressed or upset, as these emotions can make the experience more challenging. If you are struggling to manage your finances, StepChange can offer free debt advice.