Whether it’s betting on a horse race, playing slot machines or placing bets with friends, gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value in exchange for the chance to win a prize. The prize can range from a small amount of money to a life-changing jackpot. Regardless of the size of the stakes, gamblers can suffer from an addiction that can cause serious financial and emotional damage.
The good news is that there are ways to get help for a gambling problem. The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem, which can be very difficult to do. This can be especially hard if you have lost a lot of money or strained or broken relationships due to your gambling habits. However, it is vital to recognize the issue in order to seek treatment and recover.
People can develop a gambling problem from all sorts of activities, including lottery tickets, casino games (e.g. blackjack and roulette), sports gambling and online games like poker and bingo. The risk of developing a gambling problem can also increase if a person has an underlying mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, which makes them more likely to gamble to escape their feelings.
A person with a gambling problem becomes addicted to the rush of dopamine they receive when making a bet or winning a game. This is similar to how a person can become addicted to drugs, alcohol or even food. People with a gambling disorder are prone to believing in myths and superstitions around their gambling, such as thinking that a certain number of consecutive losses signals a big win, or that a specific pattern (e.g. two out of three cherries on a slot machine) means they’re about to hit the jackpot.
While it’s sometimes thought that only a small percentage of people have a gambling problem, research shows that up to half of people who gamble regularly experience problems. This can have a devastating impact on family, friends and work, and cause serious financial problems, such as debt and homelessness. In some cases, it can even lead to suicide.
The best way to address a gambling problem is to seek professional help from a specialist, such as a counsellor or psychologist. There are many different types of therapy available, including cognitive-behavioural therapy which helps people to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviours. Other types of therapy include psychodynamic therapy, which aims to raise self-awareness and understand how unconscious processes can influence our actions. There is also group therapy, where people describe their experiences with a mental health professional and support each other in overcoming gambling issues. You can also find help and advice on the NHS website. If you’re worried about your gambling, try talking about it with someone who won’t judge you – this could be a friend or family member, or a counsellor who specialises in treating gambling addiction. You can also reduce your financial risks by cutting down on the use of credit cards and other forms of borrowing, and finding new recreational activities to replace gambling.