Whether buying a lotto ticket, betting on the horse race or using the pokies, gambling involves putting something of value at risk with the hope of winning something else of value. The activity stimulates the reward center of the brain, which is biologically designed to seek rewards like food and love. It’s the reason people feel pleasure when they win and experience sadness when they lose. It’s also the reason why some people are more predisposed to addiction than others.
Gambling has a number of adverse social and psychological impacts, ranging from mild to severe. It affects the gambler at a personal level, their relationships and those around them, as well as creating economic costs and benefits that impact society/community at large (Fig. 1).
Problem gambling is the compulsion to gamble despite negative effects on a person’s life. It is now classified as an addictive disorder and recognised as a medical illness – similar to substance addiction. The disorder is associated with a dramatic change in the way chemical messages are sent from the brain. It is also associated with a number of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
In 2013, the DSM-5 was updated and pathological gambling was included in its category of Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. Gambling addiction is caused by a complex combination of factors, including genetic and psychological predispositions, poor lifestyle choices, stressful events and underlying mental health conditions. It is also linked to changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine.
There are a number of ways to overcome gambling addiction. One of the most important is to find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant emotions. Many people turn to gambling as a way to self-soothe, socialise or even escape from boredom. Try replacing this with exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or taking up a new hobby. If you’re struggling to cope, talk to a mental health professional. They can help you find a therapist who specialises in gambling addiction and can offer individual or group therapy.
It is important to understand how gambling works and to be realistic about your chances of winning. This will help you to make better decisions and prevent you from chasing losses. Many gamblers overestimate the odds of winning because they see stories on the news about other people who have won the lottery or have memories of a previous lucky streak. They think that the chances of winning will increase after each loss or when they hit a jackpot, but it is not true.
In addition, research shows that people are more sensitive to losses than gains of the same value. This means that losing PS10 will generate a much greater emotional response than finding PS10. This is why many people invest their time and money in trying to ‘win back’ their losses and this becomes a vicious cycle. It can be difficult to break this pattern. There are a number of different therapies available to treat gambling addiction, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy and family therapy.