Gambling is the act of risking something of value (usually money) on an event whose outcome is determined by chance. Examples include betting on a football team to win, or buying a scratchcard. People gamble for many reasons, some of which are social, financial, or to pass the time. However, it is important to be aware of the risks involved and how gambling can affect your mental health.
In the past, if someone you know had a problem with gambling, it was difficult to understand their behaviour and why they continued to gamble. However, recent research has enabled us to better understand how gambling works in the brain, and why it is so addictive. This has changed the way we think about gambling and how we help those who struggle with it.
We’re here to support you, whether you’re worried about your own gambling habits or that of a loved one. You can find out more about how gambling works, popular gambling terms and myths, as well as get advice on safer play and recognizing the signs of a problem.
Whether it’s a casino, online casino or a mobile phone app, gambling is an immersive experience packed with flashing lights and sounds that are designed to capture your attention and trigger a reward response. When this happens, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, which is responsible for the feelings of pleasure we experience when we consume foods, sex or drugs. The reward is also reinforced when we are exposed to uncertainty, such as the risk of losing our money.
For some individuals, gambling provides a feeling of control over their life. It allows them to feel in charge of their fate, and the potential of winning a jackpot is seen as a way to solve problems or make a bad situation better. But for some, it’s not so simple and the underlying issues are often far deeper.
The APA’s decision to classify gambling disorder as an addiction was based on new understandings of how the brain changes during addiction. These changes reflect the fact that gambling, like other addictions, is not just about a single chemical in the brain. Instead, a complex network of circuits linked to memory, movement, pleasure and motivation has been altered as the person becomes addicted to gambling.
There are four main reasons why people gamble, which may help you to understand why they might be struggling with their gambling. These might be for social or financial reasons, or to try and avoid negative thoughts and emotions. Alternatively, they might be playing for entertainment or because they enjoy the rush and ‘high’ that gambling can give them. In all of these cases, it is crucial to remember that gambling is not a lucrative activity, and the odds are usually against you, so it’s important to set limits for yourself and stick to them. It’s also a good idea to check out local resources that can help those struggling with gambling addiction, so you can pass these on when the time comes to talk to your loved one.