Whether buying a lottery ticket, betting on sports events or scratchcards, playing casino games, roulette, poker, or slots – or even placing a bet online – gambling is an activity that involves risk and chance. People gamble for many reasons – to have fun, socialise or escape from worries or stress. For some, though, gambling can become harmful, affecting work and family life. If you think you may have a problem, it’s important to seek help before things get worse.
A person who has a gambling disorder can be addicted to any form of gambling, including lotteries, racetracks, casinos, online gaming, and even games played with marbles, pogs or trading cards. The key to addiction is that the activity is psychologically rewarding. Gambling is defined as putting something of value on an event that is uncertain in order to win something else of value, and the element of skill is discounted. The earliest known evidence of gambling is from ancient China, where tiles dating back to 2,300 BCE were found that were used to play a rudimentary game of chance.
People who have a gambling disorder often lie to friends and family about their betting habits, downplaying how much time and money they spend on it, or even hiding their betting history. They also tend to rely on others to help them with their gambling, sometimes committing illegal acts such as forgery, fraud or theft in order to fund their addiction. They can also suffer from coexisting mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, which are often triggered by compulsive gambling and can be made worse by it.
There are many ways to treat gambling problems, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which examines how people think about betting and how they feel about it. It helps people challenge negative thoughts and beliefs, such as the belief that certain rituals can increase their chances of winning, or that they can ‘chase’ their losses by gambling more to recover them. In addition, CBT can help people learn to manage their finances and avoid putting themselves in financial jeopardy by only gambling with money they can afford to lose.
Longitudinal studies of people with a gambling disorder are also useful in understanding the development and maintenance of the condition. These studies can show how different circumstances and life events, such as relationship difficulties or employment problems, impact on gambling behaviour. They can also reveal the role that genetics and personality traits play in the development of pathological gambling.
If you are having trouble managing your debts, StepChange offers free, confidential support. If you are thinking of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact 999 or visit A&E immediately.