Gambling involves risking something of value, such as money, for the chance to win a prize. It can be a form of entertainment or socialising, but some people develop gambling problems that cause harm to themselves and others. People can bet on sports events, horse races, or the outcome of a lottery draw. They can also gamble online using websites such as poker and betting sites. Gambling can be a serious problem, and some people may need treatment to help them overcome it.
The majority of people who engage in gambling do so responsibly. They may play for the thrill of winning, to socialise or as a way to escape from stress and worries. However, some people are more likely to develop a gambling problem. This can include those who engage in multiple types of gambling, betting more than they can afford to lose or borrowing money to gamble. People with underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are also more likely to have problems with gambling.
A person’s behaviour can impact on their family, friends and co-workers, as well as the community as a whole. It can also have an effect on their quality of life. Research has shown that gambling can increase a person’s chances of experiencing a mental health episode, such as depression or anxiety.
Some people are able to manage their gambling behaviour and maintain good relationships. However, the majority of people who have a gambling disorder experience negative impacts on themselves and those closest to them. These effects can be seen at the individual, interpersonal and community/society levels (Fig 1).
When a person has a gambling disorder, they may experience financial difficulties and have negative consequences on their social, work and personal lives. They can also experience feelings of shame and guilt, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. These symptoms can be hard to recognise, but there are ways to get help. People who have a gambling disorder can seek help through treatment, self-help tips and support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.
Getting help for a gambling disorder can be difficult. People often feel ashamed to admit that they have a problem, but talking about it can make you feel better. You can find more information and support on the Better Health Channel, including a national gambling helpline.
Gambling affects the brain’s reward centre, which is why it can cause a ‘high’ or euphoric feeling. This can be compared to the feeling of eating a delicious meal or spending time with loved ones, which also trigger the reward centre. It is important to remember that healthy activities like exercise and socialising can also provide rewards, so try to balance your gambling with other things you enjoy. Avoid chasing your losses – the more you try to win back your money, the bigger the loss will be. Also, don’t gamble when you’re depressed or upset – the more stressed and down you are, the less well-informed your decisions will be.