For some, gambling can be a fun and social activity, as well as a way to pass time and unwind. However, for others, it can become a serious problem leading to loss of money and strained or even broken relationships. It is important to recognise the signs of a gambling addiction so that you can seek help and support.
Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent to win something else of value, where instances of strategy are discounted. There are four main reasons people gamble: for the thrill, socialising, entertainment or financial gain.
People often start gambling for the excitement and adrenaline rush that it provides. They may also be drawn to it for the socialising aspect, or because they think they could win big and change their lives. Regardless of the reason, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and begin betting more than you can afford to lose.
There is a link between gambling problems and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. This makes people more susceptible to harmful gambling behaviour. Often, the problem starts with a financial crisis. Whether it’s debt or a breakdown in family relationships, this can lead to gambling as a way to cope.
Another reason gambling can be addictive is because it causes pleasure in the brain. Placing bets activates certain receptors in the brain and gives us a chemical hit, similar to the feeling of being high. This is why some people can be addicted to gambling – they are wired to seek that feel-good factor and it becomes an instantaneous reward for them.
Longitudinal studies on gambling are rare, mainly due to the difficulty of maintaining a research team over a long period of time and the challenge of controlling factors such as mood or environment. However, the findings from these kinds of studies are important to understand how gambling affects our mental health and wellbeing.
It is possible to break the cycle of gambling addiction and rebuild your life. Many people do it on their own, but others seek the help of a professional. There are many options for treatment, including residential rehabs, where you can find a safe space free from temptation and receive evidence-based treatments. Our rehab directory can help you find a treatment option near you.
Talking openly with a loved one about the problem can be difficult, especially if they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem. But if you know that they are spending more than they can afford to, borrowing money or using gambling as a way to escape from worry or stress, it’s worth having that conversation with them. You can also get help and support for yourself, as well as a loved one, at StepChange, the UK’s free, confidential debt advice service. It can be found online or on the phone. Alternatively, you can find a local Gambling Anonymous group in your area.