Recognising That You Have a Problem With Gambling

Whether you buy lottery tickets, play the slots or scratch-offs at your local convenience store, or wager on sports or other events on TV or online, gambling involves risking something of value (money, possessions or your reputation) on an event that is largely unpredictable. This activity has been known to ruin lives, and it can also strain or break relationships. Many people with a problem with gambling have lost not just their money but also their families, friends and jobs. It is important to recognise when gambling is out of control and seek help if needed.

Gambling can be fun, but it is also a highly addictive activity that can cause serious problems. The first step is recognising that you have a problem, and this can be difficult, especially if you’ve already lost a lot of money. Seeking help can help you regain control of your finances and repair your relationships. There are many organisations that offer support, assistance and counselling for people who have a problem with gambling. Some services are available online, but it’s best to talk to a therapist in person, either face-to-face or over the phone.

The brain’s reward circuits respond to the anticipation of winning or the excitement of losing, and this can trigger an addiction. In addition, gambling often leads to other harmful behaviours, such as stealing, drug use and avoiding debt. Gambling has even been linked to domestic violence and suicide.

There are many reasons why someone might start to gamble, including boredom, loneliness, stress and anxiety, or a desire to socialise. However, it’s important to find healthier ways of relieving unpleasant feelings and reducing boredom. Trying out new activities, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques can be helpful.

People who gamble often feel they are on a journey to get rich quick, and they may try to compensate for this by spending more and more money. They can also lose a sense of reality and become overly optimistic about their chances of winning, leading to the belief that they are ‘due for a win’, which is called the gambler’s fallacy.

In the past, psychiatry has regarded pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, but in the latest edition of its diagnostic manual (DSM-5), it has moved the condition into the category of addictions. This change reflects a growing understanding of the biological basis for addictive behaviours. It is similar to the way psychiatry views substance-related disorders, and it will make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat the condition. It will also encourage more research into the nature of gambling disorders, including their causes, treatment and outcomes. This will benefit the whole healthcare community.