Gambling is a dangerous activity that involves risking something of value in the hope of winning something else of value. It can involve betting on sporting events, playing casino games, or buying lottery tickets or scratchcards. It can also include social gambling, such as playing card or board games for money with friends or participating in a friendly sports betting pool. It can also involve a professional gambler who makes a living from gambling.
While some people gamble for fun and enjoyment, others develop a serious addiction that can result in significant harm to themselves and their families. Problem gambling is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. It can also cause financial difficulties, leading to debt or even bankruptcy.
Problem gambling is usually a hidden illness and people can find it hard to admit they have a problem. They may hide their gambling behaviour from family, friends and colleagues and try to convince themselves that they don’t have a problem by using denial, blaming others or rationalising their actions. People with a problem with gambling can also have difficulty seeking help as they might feel embarrassed or ashamed about their gambling behaviour.
Some factors that can increase the risk of gambling problems are genetic predisposition, an underactive brain reward system and impulsivity. Other factors can include peer pressure and social norms, such as the belief that gambling is a normal pastime. People who have a close relative with a gambling addiction are more likely to develop one themselves.
Symptoms of problem gambling can include: (1) losing control over money and spending more than you can afford to lose; (2) lying to family members, therapists or employers about your gambling habit; (3) thinking that you are going to win big again to recoup your losses (this is called chasing your losses); and (4) jeopardizing a job, career or education opportunity in order to finance your gambling. It can also lead to health-related problems, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
The most common ways that people get addicted to gambling are by:
Playing casino games, including slots, roulette, blackjack and other table games. This can be done online or at brick-and-mortar casinos.
Online gambling, which can be accessed through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This can be done via apps and websites, and includes online poker and bingo.
Taking steps to change your gambling habits and reduce the risks involved in this addictive behaviour can make a huge difference to your life. If you need support to quit gambling, you can get help from a trained specialist, and join a peer-support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can also strengthen your support network and look for healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or learning relaxation techniques. You can also consider joining a community organisation, such as a book club or sports team, or enrolling in an education class or volunteering for a good cause.