Gambling involves risking something of value (money or possessions) on an event whose outcome is uncertain. It can be a fun way to socialise, or a source of excitement and euphoria, but for some people it can become a serious problem that harms their health, relationships, performance at work or study and finances. It can also lead to legal trouble and homelessness.
Problem gambling is a complex issue with no definitive cause. It is thought to be influenced by factors such as childhood trauma, genetic predisposition and exposure to gambling in the media. It is often associated with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, which can trigger and make worse gambling behaviours. Gambling disorder can develop during adolescence or adulthood and symptoms can begin suddenly or get worse over time.
Symptoms include losing control of money, spending more than you can afford to lose, lying to family and friends, hiding or covering up gambling activities and becoming preoccupied with thoughts about gambling. Gambling can interfere with relationships, work and studies and may be accompanied by other addictive behaviours such as substance abuse or eating disorders. It is also associated with a higher risk of suicide.
If you have a gambling disorder, there are things you can do to help yourself. Talking about your problems with someone who will not judge you – such as a family member, friend or counsellor – can be helpful. Setting goals – both short- and long-term – can help you change your habits. Support groups for people with gambling disorder can be a great source of support and advice.
It’s important to control your cash – see the Better Health Channel fact sheet ‘Gambling – financial issues’ for more information. Avoid using credit cards or taking out loans to gamble and don’t carry large amounts of cash around with you. Find other ways to socialise or relieve boredom besides gambling, such as exercise, hobbies and spending time with friends who don’t gamble.
There are a number of different treatment and rehab programs for gambling addiction, including outpatient, day, and residential care. Many of these programs offer group and individual therapy, as well as education about gambling addiction and relapse prevention. Some programs also offer family therapy and marriage counselling, as gambling addiction can affect the whole family.
Research suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy is effective in treating gambling disorder. This type of therapy teaches you to challenge irrational beliefs that can trigger gambling behaviour, such as the belief that you are more likely to win than you really are or that certain rituals can bring luck. It can also teach you to resist urges to gamble by telling yourself “no” or using a self-control technique. It is also important to stop chasing your losses and learn to accept that you will not win every bet. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy – thinking you will be lucky and recoup your losses if you continue to gamble.