How Gambling Affects Your Mental Health

Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, tossing a coin or playing a slot machine, gambling is a popular pastime with the potential for huge winnings. But it’s important to understand the risks and how gambling can affect your mental health. If you think your gambling is out of control, it’s worth seeking help and support. There are many options available, including therapy, self-help tips and self-assessment tools.

Gambling is any game of chance or skill where you stake something valuable (including money) for a prize win. This can include any game where there is an element of risk such as a racetrack or casino, online games and even lottery tickets. Gambling is an impulsive activity and can result in feelings of euphoria, linked to the brain’s reward system. People gamble for a variety of reasons; some do it to alleviate stress, others to socialise or escape from worries and other negative emotions, while still others are drawn to the adrenaline rush of the possibility of a big payout.

While gambling is an enjoyable pastime for most, it can be a dangerous addiction for some. Symptoms may be evident from as early as adolescence, and can involve family members as well as individuals. In some cases, a history of trauma or social inequality is associated with an increased likelihood of developing a gambling disorder. It is also a common cause of financial difficulties and debt. Often, these problems are not recognised by the person at the time and can be exacerbated by other factors such as depression and anxiety.

The underlying causes of gambling disorders are complex. Some people may have an underactive reward circuitry in the brain that makes them predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. Genetic factors also seem to be at play, with some studies showing that certain people are more likely to develop a pathological gambling problem than others.

The psychiatric community has traditionally viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction. However, in a decision that was widely regarded as a landmark move, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) placed pathological gambling under a new category of behavioral addictions. This was in line with research that shows that the biological underpinnings of gambling disorder are similar to those of drug addiction and impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania and trichotillomania. This reflects the growing recognition that compulsive gambling is a treatable illness.

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