The idea of winning millions in a twinkly, noisy casino, with the big rush of rolling the dice and seeing if Lady Luck is on your side is what many of us imagine gambling to be like. But gambling is more than just a fun pastime; it can be dangerous and lead to serious problems, including debt and family breakdown. If you’re worried about a loved one, we’re here to help you understand the risk factors and get them the help they need.
Gambling is a form of betting, where you stake something of value on a random event in the hope of winning something else of value. This can be money, prizes or even goods or services. It’s a huge global industry, with the legal gambling market in 2009 estimated at $335 billion. It can be found in casinos, racecourses, sporting events and even online. Often, gambling is based on chance, with the odds (or probabilities) of a given outcome being matched to the stake you place.
Research has shown that when people gamble, there’s a release of dopamine in the brain, a chemical linked to feelings of reward. However, not everyone who gambles will feel this way; it can be a destructive addiction that leads to serious financial and mental health problems.
Problem gambling is sometimes called compulsive or pathological gambling, and it affects all ages and genders. It can cause significant harm to your career, relationships and health, making it difficult or impossible to live a normal life. It can also lead to serious depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
The first step towards getting help is realizing that you have a gambling problem. It can be a hard admission to make, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or suffered strained and broken relationships as a result. But don’t give up; it’s possible to recover from a gambling addiction and rebuild your life.
In some cases, it may be necessary to seek inpatient or residential treatment if you’re struggling with a severe gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling can help you find local services and support groups. There are also therapists who specialise in gambling problems. You can use the BetterHelp service to get a personalised assessment and be matched with a therapist who can help you deal with your problem. You can also find help for underlying mood disorders, which can trigger and make worse gambling problems. Speak to a free debt adviser at StepChange for confidential advice. It’s also important to avoid gambling with money you need to pay bills or rent – only gamble with disposable income. And don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are plenty of people who have overcome gambling problems and rebuilt their lives.