Gambling involves taking a risk in the hope of winning something. It can be done with cards, dice, horse races and even video games. Many people gamble to socialise or escape from stress and worry. For some, however, gambling becomes an addiction. It can be hard to recognise when it’s a problem, especially when someone has lost money or damaged relationships through their gambling. But there are ways to help.
The American Psychiatric Association defines pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder characterized by “recurrent, uncontrollable urges to gamble” and “a loss of control over the amount of time or money spent on gambling.” This definition also includes lying about or hiding gambling behaviours. This disorder can affect both adults and adolescents and can cause serious consequences for family, work, education and personal relationships.
Pathological gambling tends to run in families, and it is often influenced by genetic factors and coexisting mental health conditions. However, the condition can develop in people who have no history of psychiatric disorders or other underlying problems. People who experience adversity in early childhood may be at greater risk for developing the condition. In addition, people who have a family history of alcohol or drug abuse are more likely to develop pathological gambling.
People who enjoy gambling often do it to get a rush of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that triggers feelings of pleasure and motivation. This chemical is important for human survival, but when it’s triggered by gambling, it can have negative consequences. This is because people become desensitised to the pleasure they get from the activity and need more of it in order to feel the same effects. Over time, this can lead to a vicious cycle whereby a person becomes addicted to gambling in order to experience a high from the dopamine released.
To combat this, gamblers can set limits on the amount they want to spend and how long they want to play for. It’s also a good idea to only gamble with disposable income, rather than using money that’s meant for essential expenses like rent or food. In addition, it’s important to remember that gambling is inherently risky, so be prepared to lose money. The best way to limit your losses is to only gamble with what you can afford to lose and to never chase your losses.
Finally, it’s important to build a strong support network and to seek professional help. There are many options available for those who need assistance with a gambling problem, including outpatient and residential treatment programs. These programs can help people to break the cycle of gambling addiction by giving them a new perspective on life and teaching them to recognise and manage their triggers. They can also help people to find healthier activities and sources of pleasure, such as volunteering or joining a book club. In some cases, they can even help to restore damaged relationships. For some people, this can be the final step in breaking the gambling habit and starting a fresh, healthy life.