Many people gamble at some time in their lives – it might be buying a lotto ticket, putting a bet on a football match or playing the pokies. The purpose of gambling is to try and predict an outcome, usually money or something else of value. It can be done alone or with friends and involves taking a risk in exchange for a chance of winning. Some forms of gambling involve skill and can improve the chances of winning, for example betting on a horse race or using a strategy to play card games. However, most gambling involves some element of chance and the result is decided largely by randomness.
Gambling affects the reward center of the brain and makes us feel pleasure when we win. This is because the body releases a chemical called dopamine when we win or experience pleasant emotions. This is the same process that happens when we spend time with loved ones, eat a delicious meal or take part in another healthy activity. It’s important that we seek out rewards that do not include gambling, as it can lead to a serious problem.
Most people who gamble do so without any problems. But, some develop an addiction that leads to serious distress or impairment. This is known as gambling disorder and is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It’s important that you recognise when you might have a problem with gambling, because it can affect your relationships, health and work.
A person who has a gambling disorder may:
Often, people who have a problem with gambling start gambling as a way to distract themselves or make themselves feel better. It might be a way to cope with stress or boredom, or it might be something they do for social reasons with their friends. Other times it might be a way to get a rush or feeling of excitement. People who have a problem with gambling may also think about what they would do if they won the lottery or other big jackpots.
Some people who have a gambling problem have other underlying issues such as depression, anxiety or financial problems. In this case, therapy and support from family and friends can help. There are also inpatient treatment and rehab programs available for those with severe gambling disorders who can’t stop on their own.