How Gambling Turns Into a Problem

Whether it’s buying lottery tickets, playing online poker or betting on sports teams in fantasy leagues, gambling is risky and most people lose more than they win. But for some, the thrill of taking a chance can turn into a serious addiction. This week, Brain Connections takes a look at how gambling spirals from being fun to causing problems.

Gambling is placing something of value, such as money or items of sentimental value, on the outcome of a random event, where strategies are discounted. Examples of this include betting on a football team to win, or buying a scratchcard. The gambler chooses what they want to bet on and then the odds are matched up with the prize. For example, a football team may have an odds of 5/1, meaning the chances of winning are very low.

When a person is addicted to gambling, they do not control their impulses and find it difficult to stop even when they are losing. The gambler has an intense urge to return and try again, often chasing lost money (which can result in larger losses than initial gains). They might lie about their involvement with gambling and secretly bet, or hide funds from family members.

A person can get help for a gambling disorder through psychotherapy or other types of psychological treatment. Psychotherapy is a term for a range of techniques that aim to help a person identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It usually takes place with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker.

In recent years, our understanding of the nature of gambling disorders has changed. It is now more commonly considered a psychological issue, similar to the way we understand alcoholism. This shift is reflected in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Many people who have a gambling disorder have other mental health conditions. For instance, people with depression or anxiety are more likely to develop gambling disorder. People who begin gambling as adolescents are also more susceptible, as they are less mature and have more to lose when they win.

It is important to remember that gambling is a form of entertainment and not a way to make money. It is therefore advisable to only gamble with disposable income and never use money that you need for essential bills. It is also a good idea to have a set amount of time that you can spend gambling each day, and stick to this.

Lastly, it is important to stay away from gambling when you are stressed or down. It can be easy to rationalize the urge to gamble when you are in a low mood, but this will only increase your chances of a gambling problem. Instead, find other ways to relax and unwind. Keeping yourself busy will help you avoid gambling and the associated problems.