Gambling involves risking money or something of value on the outcome of a game of chance, such as a casino game, a sport event or a scratchcard. If you win, you get the money you wagered, and if you lose, you forfeit the stakes. You can gamble alone or with other people, and it’s possible to win big sums of money if you play regularly. However, problem gambling can affect your physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends, performance at work or study, your financial situation and may even lead to serious debt and possible homelessness.
Some people enjoy gambling as a way to kill boredom, pass time or make their day to day lives more interesting. But compulsive gambling can have a devastating effect on the lives of those who are addicted to it, and can have a negative impact on society too. It can ruin family life, cause depression and anxiety, damage work or educational performance, and exacerbate existing mental health problems such as anxiety, mood disorders and substance use problems.
People with gambling disorder are often secretive about their addiction and lie to loved ones about how much they gamble. They also tend to downplay the problem or blame others for their behaviour, and might spend a large amount of money trying to win back what they’ve lost. They might also rely on their friends and family to fund their gambling activities, or pawn their belongings. Some people with this problem even attempt suicide.
Whether it’s the lights, music and buzz of a casino or the whir of slot machines, there are many things about gambling that can offer a form of escapism. The action of gambling engages the brain’s reward centre, triggering a response similar to the feeling you get when eating a delicious meal or spending time with your favourite person. This is why some people feel compelled to keep gambling, even when it damages their finances, family and relationships or erodes their performance at work or study.
A key part of gambling is predicting the outcome of an event that relies on chance. This is usually done by matching a choice of an event, such as a football match or a scratchcard, to a set of odds – numbers that indicate the likelihood of the outcome, and are often hidden from the punter – and betting on it. The odds can be complex, and the bookmakers rely on people’s ignorance to lure them in with “hot” numbers and push them towards more complex markets where they might have a better chance of winning.
There are no drugs to treat gambling disorder, but there are several types of psychotherapy. These include individual therapy, group therapy and psychodynamic therapy, which looks at how unconscious processes can influence your behavior. Psychotherapy can help you change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and find healthy ways to spend your time. It can also teach you to manage your stress levels and address any underlying mood disorders that are contributing to your gambling problems.