Whether it’s buying a Lotto ticket, placing a bet or tossing a coin in the air, gambling involves risking money or something of value in exchange for the chance to win more money or a prize. Some people can become addicted to gambling and it can be harmful to their health, relationships, work and studies. Problem gambling can also lead to debt and homelessness.
Gambling can occur in casinos, race tracks, on the Internet and even at gas stations and church halls. It is illegal in many countries and most forms of gambling are heavily regulated in those where it’s legal. Despite the risks, it can still be a fun activity for those who can control their behaviour.
For those who can’t, it can be destructive and lead to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship problems, family breakdown, financial difficulties and even suicide. It can also cause stress, anger and feelings of guilt. The biggest step in addressing a gambling problem is recognising that you have one. This is often the hardest thing to admit – especially if you’ve lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way.
There are four main reasons why people gamble. They may be chasing losses (thinking that they’re due for a big win to make up for their previous losses) or they might be gambling to escape their worries, to feel more confident or because it’s socially acceptable. They might also be gambling to avoid facing a difficult situation or because they’re bored or depressed.
Regardless of the motivation, gambling is an addictive behaviour and the more people who engage in it, the more likely someone will develop a problem. People with mental health conditions are more at risk of harmful gambling as they’re more likely to use it as a distraction or to try to feel better. Likewise, those who are homeless or in financial crisis are more at risk of gambling problems as they’re less likely to be able to manage their finances.
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies gambling disorder under behavioral addictions, alongside alcohol and drug addictions. It’s important to recognise that there are effective treatments for gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioural therapy, family and peer support and residential treatment.
If you’re worried about the impact of gambling on your life or that of a loved one, get in touch with us and we can help. We’re free and confidential, and available 24/7.
The first step to overcoming any addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem. It’s also vital to only gamble with disposable income, not money that needs to be saved or used for bills or rent. It’s also worth considering strengthening your support network and trying activities like joining a book club, gym or sports team, volunteering for a good cause or finding a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the 12-step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous.