Gambling is an activity where people risk something of value on the outcome of a game that involves a degree of randomness or chance. This can include activities such as playing card games or fruit machines, betting on sports events or elections and taking out insurance (although it excludes business transactions based on actuarial risk assessment).
Humans are biologically designed to seek rewards. These rewards are usually related to positive experiences such as spending time with friends or loved ones, eating healthy food and experiencing physical pleasure. Some people become reliant on gambling to feel this sensation of reward, especially if they are struggling with mental health problems. The result is that their gambling habits can have serious consequences. These can include harming relationships, work performance and study, getting into debt and even putting themselves or others at risk of suicide.
Problem gambling can also have a huge impact on families and friends, with people having to lie to family and friends about the amount of money they are spending or hiding their gambling behaviours from those around them. It can also lead to self-harm and alcohol or drug abuse, as well as feelings of depression and anxiety.
The underlying reasons for gambling addiction are varied and complex. These factors can include the illusion of control, a lack of understanding of the probabilities involved in random events (known as the gambler’s fallacy) and the use of gambling as a form of escape coping. It is also thought that genetic and personality traits play a part, as do stressful life experiences and depression.
Research has shown that when someone is addicted to gambling, the brain circuitry that controls reward and impulses becomes altered. This is why it’s sometimes hard for those who have a gambling problem to stop, and why relapses are so common. Neuroscientists have found that gambling, drugs and alcohol affect the same areas of the brain in a similar way.
Until recently, experts have debated whether pathological gambling should be classed as an addictive disorder. However, recent research has shown that people who have this condition experience the same negative consequences as those who are addicted to substances such as alcohol and cigarettes. The latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, has decided to classify pathological gambling as an addiction.
It can be very difficult to identify a gambling problem, but there are a few key signs that you should look out for. These include: