Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the goal of winning a prize. It’s a form of entertainment that has been around for centuries. When problems develop, gambling can become addictive and lead to serious financial consequences.
The word “gambling” is often associated with casinos and other forms of commercial gambling, but it’s important to remember that many people gamble in their social circles as well. Playing card games such as poker, blackjack, and spades with friends in a private setting, or betting on horse races or football accumulators with a group of coworkers are examples of informal gambling. While these bets are not made with money, they do involve risking a social relationship and can have the same effect as putting a wager on a random event.
Problematic gambling affects the reward system of the brain, hijacking the natural process that rewards the acquisition of skills. When a person succeeds at something, the brain releases dopamine, which helps them learn from their experience and try to replicate success in the future. It is a positive learning mechanism, but when a person becomes dependent on gambling to feel good or escape their problems, it can spiral out of control.
A problem with gambling can lead to financial ruin, but it can also destroy relationships and cause psychological problems, including depression and anxiety. It can also lead to a variety of health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and even suicide. People who struggle with a gambling addiction may spend excessive amounts of time at the casino, online, or in other gaming activities, to the point where their lives and livelihood are completely dominated by these pursuits.
There are effective treatments for gambling disorders, including individual and family therapy and a 12-step program modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous. A peer support group is also helpful for some individuals who have a gambling problem, as they can offer encouragement and advice from others who are in a similar situation.
If you suspect that a friend or family member has a gambling problem, help them get treatment as soon as possible. Take steps to limit their access to credit cards, let them know you won’t be able to loan them money, and close any online betting accounts. You can also encourage them to seek counseling and to look for local support groups.
In addition to the desire for a quick fix, gambling can also be used as an outlet for frustration and stress, providing a temporary release of tension that can relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression. It can also be a way to meet basic needs, such as the need for belonging and a sense of achievement. In fact, studies have shown that pathological gambling is comparable to substance abuse in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and physiology. The DSM-5 has moved gambling disorder into the category of behavioral addictions, which is consistent with these findings.