Almost half of people in the UK participate in some form of gambling activity, but for some it can be harmful. It can affect relationships, performance at work or school and get them into serious debt, potentially leading to homelessness. It can also cause a range of health problems including heart disease and depression. Problem gambling can be a hidden addiction, and it can have devastating consequences for families.
Often, the main reason people gamble is to try and win something, or to relieve boredom, loneliness or stress. However, there are many healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble and practicing relaxation techniques. Gambling is an expensive pastime and should only be done with disposable income. It is important to establish boundaries and not take money that you need for rent or bills to gamble with. Only play with money that you can afford to lose, and limit the amount of time spent at casinos or other gambling venues.
While the word ‘gambling’ often evokes thoughts of slot machines and casino games, the term actually covers all activities that involve risking money or other assets on an event that is determined at least partly by chance. This could include betting on football matches, buying lottery or scratch cards or even betting at the office pool.
When people gamble, the brain releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that can make you excited and increase your chances of winning. Consequently, it can be difficult to recognize when you have lost enough or that you are no longer enjoying the game and should stop playing. Moreover, when you are winning, you will experience a burst of happiness and this can make you want to continue gambling even more.
Some cultures consider gambling as a social pastime and this can make it hard to recognize if you have a problem. In addition, there are some people who have a genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. Studies have shown that the risk-taking behaviour of these individuals is influenced by certain genes and brain regions, which can lead to a greater sensitivity in response to reward and a lessened ability to control impulses.
There are a number of treatments available for problem gambling, including cognitive-behaviour therapy and family therapy. These methods help gamblers to confront their irrational beliefs and to learn better financial management skills. For example, gambling addicts often believe that a string of losses means that they are due for a big win, and that chasing their losses will enable them to make back the money that they have lost. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy and it is extremely dangerous.
The best way to cope with a loved one who has a gambling problem is to reach out for support. Talk to a family doctor or therapist and seek advice from the Gambling Helpline, which is available free of charge for UK residents.