Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, betting on sports events or playing the pokies, gambling can trigger feelings of excitement and euphoria. However, people should remember that all gambling is risky and there’s always a chance of losing money. In addition, many forms of gambling can be harmful to mental health.
During the past, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction and categorized it alongside other impulse control disorders such as kleptomania (stealing) or pyromania (burning things). But in May, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling into the “addictions” chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s a milestone that’s been years in the making and has already changed how psychiatrists approach this disorder.
In gambling, players choose what they want to gamble on – it could be a football team or a scratchcard – and match it to the odds, which are set by the betting company. Depending on the odds, they might win a big jackpot or lose a lot of money. But there are several cognitive biases that distort the odds and affect a person’s preference for one type of gambling over another.
The human brain is biologically wired to seek rewards. Whenever we engage in healthy behaviors, such as spending time with loved ones or eating a delicious meal, our bodies release the hormone dopamine, which makes us feel happy. But some behaviors are more rewarding than others, such as winning the lottery or taking a risky job. This is why some people have trouble stopping their gambling behavior.
While the majority of adults do not have a problem with gambling, some individuals develop a serious gambling disorder that can have devastating effects on their lives. There are a number of ways that people can help themselves break the gambling habit, including counselling and support groups. In severe cases, some people need inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs.
People gamble for a variety of reasons, from the adrenaline rush to socialising with friends or escaping stress and anxiety. But if you find yourself betting more than you can afford to lose or lying about your gambling, it may be time to seek professional help.
Some of the most effective treatments for gambling disorders include cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches you to resist unwanted thoughts and habits. It can also help you to address any underlying mood disorders that may be contributing to your gambling problem, such as depression or stress.
You can also strengthen your support network and find other activities to spend your time. For example, try to spend more time with friends who don’t engage in gambling or join a club or hobby that doesn’t involve gambling. You can also sign up to a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous. Finally, it’s important to manage your finances and stay out of debt. If you’re struggling, StepChange can offer free and confidential debt advice.