Gambling is when you risk something of value (like money or a prize ticket) to try and predict the outcome of an event based on chance, such as betting on a football game, buying a scratchcard, or playing video poker or slot machines. It can be fun but it’s important to remember that gambling is always a gamble, and there’s always a risk of losing. Some people become addicted to gambling and it’s important to know the warning signs, get help and support if you have a problem.
There is a link between mental health issues and gambling disorders. People with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems may be more likely to use gambling as a way of self-soothing or to distract themselves. It’s also important to address any financial issues you have, as this can be a contributing factor to harmful gambling behaviour. If you’re struggling with debt, speak to StepChange for free and confidential advice.
Many factors can contribute to a gambling addiction, including stress, family and work pressures, and access to regulated gambling opportunities (like casinos or lotteries). It’s also possible that some people are more genetically predisposed to developing an addictive personality. However, the majority of gambling addictions are caused by a combination of psychological and environmental factors.
A person can start gambling for a variety of reasons, from the excitement of winning to socialising or escaping stress. The danger is that the hobby can quickly take over and become a lifestyle, resulting in loss of control, debt, relationships issues and even suicide.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of gambling, especially if you enjoy it and are good at it. Many people who struggle with a gambling addiction are in denial about their situation and will hide how much they spend or lie to others. There are a number of treatment options available, such as family therapy, cognitive-behaviour therapy and support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous.
Psychotherapy can help you identify unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors and learn to cope with them in healthy ways. It’s also a great way to build your self-confidence and improve your relationship with yourself and those around you.
Cognitive-behavior therapy can teach you to challenge irrational beliefs about gambling, such as the idea that a string of losses or a near miss (like two out of three cherries on a slot machine) will be your lucky day. This is an effective technique for overcoming an addictive mindset and can be used alone or alongside other types of therapy.
Support groups can be a valuable source of motivation and moral support for people struggling with a gambling disorder. You can find groups in your local area, online or by phone, and they usually have a peer mentor who has successfully overcome gambling addiction. You can also seek individual therapy from a mental health professional, or ask your GP for a referral. Medications aren’t currently available to treat gambling disorders, but psychotherapy can be an effective alternative.