Gambling involves placing something of value (typically money) on a random event, such as a lottery ticket, card game, race, sporting event or slot machine, with the hope of winning a prize. In some cases, gambling may involve the use of illegal drugs or even money from other sources, such as a loan. Regardless of the source, gambling is considered to be an addictive behavior that can lead to serious consequences, including financial, personal and family problems.
The brain is naturally motivated to seek rewards. When we do something good for ourselves, such as spending time with a loved one or eating a nutritious meal, the body produces a chemical called dopamine, which makes us feel happy. When we gamble, our brain also releases dopamine, but this reward is short-lived and often followed by negative feelings, such as guilt or anxiety. The problem is that people who are addicted to gambling experience this positive and negative feedback loop over and over again, which can lead them to continue gambling in spite of the resulting negative consequences.
Some of these negative effects include: (1) a desire to win more, which can cause compulsive gambling; (2) lying to friends or family about their gambling behaviors, and (3) relying on others to fund or replace the money lost from gambling. People who have a gambling disorder can also experience shame, guilt and depression as a result of their problematic gambling. Personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions may also contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a gambling addiction.
There are a variety of ways to manage gambling problems, such as: (1) taking a break from the activity; (2) spending only money that can be spared and never gambling with funds needed for bills or food; and (3) seeking help from a support group. In addition, individuals can learn to recognize the warning signs of gambling addiction, which include:
The best way to reduce a person’s risk for becoming a problem gambler is to avoid the activity altogether or limit it to small amounts on occasion. It is also important to have a strong support network, such as close friends and family who will offer encouragement and advice. In addition, it is helpful to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous or an online support community. These groups offer guidance and insight from former gamblers who have successfully overcome their addictions. These resources can be particularly helpful for individuals who are unable to stop gambling on their own. Lastly, it is essential to get proper treatment and care from a trained clinical professional. Those who are serious about stopping their gambling addiction should consider family therapy, marriage and relationship counseling, career and credit counseling and inpatient or residential treatment programs for problem gamblers. These programs provide round-the-clock support and can address the specific issues underlying a person’s gambling addiction. This type of treatment is typically more effective than self-help strategies.