Gambling involves risking something of value on a random event in the hope of winning something else of value. While most people enjoy a bit of gambling, some are more than just occasional gamblers and could be considered pathological gamblers. Pathological gambling (PG) causes problems with relationships, work, and health. It can begin in adolescence or young adulthood and be more common in men than in women. It is also more likely to occur in a person with other mental health problems.
While some gamblers use it as a way to socialise, others do it to escape from their problems and stress. Whatever the reason, for some people it can lead to serious financial difficulties. If you are worried that your or a loved one has a problem, help is available. Whether you need debt advice, treatment or support from family and friends, there are steps you can take.
Understanding why people gamble can help you spot a problem and seek treatment. Gambling is often linked to a mental health condition, including depression and anxiety. These conditions may trigger gambling and make it harder to stop. They can also increase the risk of harmful gambling behaviours. For example, some people who are depressed are more likely to try to recover their losses by gambling again and again.
Gambling can be addictive because it stimulates the reward centre of the brain. Humans are biologically wired to seek rewards, and the brain releases dopamine when we engage in enjoyable activities such as eating food, spending time with friends, or taking drugs. The fact that the outcome of gambling is uncertain – and the size of the potential prize – means the brain is highly attracted to it.
Unlike other addictions, there are no medications to treat gambling disorder. However, psychological therapy is a proven treatment method and many different types are available. These include cognitive behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy. Some types of psychotherapy are more effective than others, and you will need to find the right one for your needs.
A trained and experienced therapist can help you change the unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors associated with your gambling. For instance, CBT teaches you to challenge irrational beliefs such as the idea that certain rituals can bring you luck or that a string of losses signifies an imminent win. Changing these thoughts can help you break the gambling cycle and improve your relationship with money.
You can also get support from family and friends or join a peer group such as Gamblers Anonymous. If you are thinking of harming yourself or someone else, call 999 or visit A&E immediately.