Mental Health and Gambling


Gambling is the wagering of money or something of value on an event with a random outcome, such as a scratchcard, slot machine or game of cards. There are many different reasons people gamble, from a desire to win money or material goods to a need for a sense of achievement. However, it is important to remember that gambling can be addictive and lead to harmful behaviours. Those with mental health problems may be more at risk of gambling. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, it is important to seek help.

There are a number of different treatment options available, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can help with issues such as faulty thinking patterns around betting, beliefs that certain rituals can increase your luck or the chances of winning and that you can make back any losses through gambling more. It can also be helpful for those who struggle with boredom or depression, by teaching them to relax in healthier ways, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or trying out new hobbies.

The CBT approach is often used in combination with other treatments. These include cognitive behavioural therapy for gambling disorder, family therapy and self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. These are aimed at improving the way people think about gambling, and helping them to stop using it to cope with emotions or as an escape from problems.

Research has shown that many people who have a gambling problem are also depressed and anxious. These people can be particularly at risk of suicide, so it is vital that they get help if they have thoughts of taking their own life. If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, call 999 or visit A&E immediately. Those with a gambling problem are also more at risk of debt, which can make the situation even worse. For confidential debt advice, speak to StepChange.

The main reason people gamble is the prospect of winning big. The thrill of gambling is a powerful emotion that activates the reward system in the brain and causes feelings of euphoria. Many people also like the social aspect of gambling, where they can interact with others and enjoy a variety of entertainment.

It is thought that the onset of pathological gambling (PG) usually occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, although it can start much earlier or later in life. PG is characterised by recurrent and relapsing episodes of problematic gambling behaviour.

The majority of people who have a gambling problem do not meet the diagnostic criteria for PG in the DSM-IV-TR. It is therefore useful to talk about a spectrum of disordered gambling, from those at higher risk of developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those who would meet the criterion for PG in the DSM-IV-TR. This term has been coined to distinguish this range from the broader category of addictive disorders, which is used to describe all types of substance and non-substance use disorders.