Gambling Disorders – How to Recognise a Gambling Problem

Gambling is when you risk something of value (money, goods or services) on a chance event that is not under your control or influence, and you hope to win a prize. This doesn’t include bona fide business transactions valid under law, such as purchasing or selling at a future date securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance.

There are many reasons people gamble, from a sense of adventure and excitement to escape problems they are facing or feeling. Some people are also able to walk away from gambling and it isn’t a problem for them – but for others, the compulsion to continue to gamble is overwhelming and has serious consequences for themselves and those around them.

Often, the first sign of a problem is a change in your loved one’s behaviour. They might start hiding their gambling or lying about it, spending more time on it than they have to and upping their bets in the hopes that they’ll hit the jackpot. Others find that their addiction becomes financially devastating and they are unable to stop, even when they know the odds of winning are extremely low.

Research has shown that the most common factors in a person becoming addicted to gambling are impulsiveness, mood disorders and poor financial management. Some experts have suggested that pathological gambling should be classified as an addiction, although this is controversial because the evidence supporting the idea that it causes significant behavioural changes is weak. This is because the majority of studies have involved patients in treatment and there are no control groups.

Other important factors that lead to gambling disorders are sensation-and novelty-seeking, arousal and negative emotionality. Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking suggests that people entertain the risks of monetary loss in order to experience states of high arousal and enjoy complex or varied stimulation. Cloninger’s theory of arousal and negative emotionality is also relevant, as it suggests that people who gamble may engage in this activity to experience a range of negative emotions including boredom, anger and anxiety.

Another factor that contributes to a person’s chances of developing a gambling disorder is a tendency to overestimate the probability of an event occurring. This happens because the individual can recall immediate examples of when something similar did occur – such as stories they heard or saw on TV of lottery winners, or their own previous string of lucky wins. This is known as the availability bias and it helps explain why some people are able to maintain stable gambling behaviors despite the incredible odds against them.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with gambling, reaching out for help is the best option. BetterHelp is an online service that matches you with accredited therapists who specialise in helping with depression, anxiety, relationships and more. Get started by taking the assessment and get matched in as little as 48 hours. You can also speak to someone on the phone or by email if you prefer.