Recognising When Gambling Is Causing Harm

Gambling is an activity where you risk something of value, usually money, for the chance of winning something else of value. It can take many forms, from betting on a football match to playing a scratchcard. Whatever you do, there are certain key things to keep in mind. It’s important to recognise when gambling is causing harm, because that will help you avoid or seek treatment for it.

People develop gambling problems for a wide variety of reasons. It can start when you’re young, it may run in the family or it could be caused by your financial situation. Problem gambling can affect all social groups, regardless of economic status, culture or education levels. It can also be exacerbated by alcohol, drugs and other factors, including depression.

Many people have the misperception that gambling is a low risk, high reward entertainment choice. In reality, the odds are always against you and gambling can become a vicious cycle of losing and then trying to win back your losses. This cycle can lead to serious financial problems and even homelessness.

One of the main reasons for gambling becoming problematic is the way it changes the reward pathway in your brain. Whenever you have a good outcome, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel positive and encourages more of the same behavior. This is why it’s so hard to stop gambling once you’ve started. It can be like a drug, where you need more and more of it to get the same effect.

Another reason is the false sense of control that gambling can give you. It’s human nature to want to feel in control of your life, and despite the fact that gambling is an uncontrollable activity, some people can convince themselves they have some level of control by making certain rituals around their gambling. This includes sitting in a specific spot, throwing dice a certain way or wearing lucky clothes.

Gambling addiction often starts with a desire to escape from something. It might be stress, boredom, loss or a relationship issue. It’s important to find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and cope with boredom or stress. You might try activities like exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or taking up a new hobby.

If you have a family member with a gambling problem, seeking help is an excellent first step. Talking to others with the same issues can help you realise that you are not alone, and support services can offer advice on how to manage money and set boundaries. If the problem is severe, there are inpatient and residential gambling treatment and rehab programs. They are for those with a gambling disorder and can offer round the clock care to prevent them from using gambling as a solution or an escape. It’s a difficult process, but it’s worth it in the long term.