Gambling Addiction

Gambling involves betting something of value on an uncertain event with the awareness that you could lose it. It can be as simple as buying a lottery ticket or as sophisticated as casino gambling and can be for profit or as a leisure activity. It may be legal or illegal and can include all sorts of activities from lottery betting by poor people to sports betting and scratchcards. It isn’t viewed as socially acceptable, can impoverish families and lead to blackmail. It can also contribute to depression, mental health problems and substance misuse.

Some people are more likely to develop a gambling problem than others. Men are more vulnerable than women as are people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some people develop a problem because of other underlying mood disorders such as depression, stress or anxiety, which can trigger or be made worse by compulsive gambling.

People can become addicted to all types of gambling including the lottery, casino games (e.g. roulette), sports gambling and online gaming. Some people are able to control their gambling habits but others are not. People with impulsive personalities are particularly at risk of developing a problem because they find it difficult to weigh up the long-term consequences of their decisions. They often have difficulty identifying their own feelings of regret or shame and may be unable to stop themselves from making the same mistakes again and again.

It is thought that some people are predisposed to becoming addicted to gambling because it activates the reward centre in their brain. It is the same part of the brain that is stimulated by eating a delicious meal, spending time with loved ones and other healthy behaviours that provide pleasure. However, for some people the gambling trigger becomes too strong to resist and they find themselves in a vicious cycle of losing money and feeling regret.

Gambling addiction affects not just the person who gambles but also their family, friends, work and communities. It can be a significant cause of homelessness and suicide and can also have a detrimental effect on personal relationships, financial security, physical and mental health, education and work performance. It is important to seek help for a gambling problem as early as possible as it is a complex condition.

There are no medications to treat gambling disorder but psychotherapy can be helpful. This is a talking treatment with a mental health professional such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. It can involve psychoeducation, family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. It can help a person identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviours that are driving their gambling behaviour. It can also help them to improve their ability to handle stress and to find healthier ways of coping with boredom. In severe cases of gambling addiction, inpatient or residential treatment is available. This provides round-the-clock support for people who cannot avoid gambling without this level of care. This type of treatment is particularly helpful for those who have a coexisting mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.

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