Gambling is the act of wagering something of value on an event that has some element of randomness and chance. It can be done in a number of ways including lottery tickets, sports betting, casinos and slot machines. It is often accompanied by an urge to win and can lead to serious harm. It can also impact a person’s mental health and relationships, as well as their work or study performance and their ability to cope with everyday life. Harmful gambling can lead to debt and even homelessness.
The main causes of harmful gambling are impulse control problems, family and peer influences, financial problems, depression or anxiety, underlying mental health issues and the influence of alcohol and drugs. Problem gambling can be difficult to identify, and a person might hide their activity or lie about it. There is a link between suicide and harmful gambling, so if you or someone you know has thoughts of ending their life or is having suicidal feelings, call 999 or go to A&E immediately.
There are a number of things that can help to prevent harmful gambling. One is to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose. Never use money that you need to pay bills or rent. Another is to set time and money limits in advance. Then stop when you hit those limits, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. And never chase your losses – trying to get back what you have lost usually leads to bigger losses.
Understanding why people gamble can also help to reduce or stop it. People can gamble for social reasons, to get a rush or ‘high’, for the chance of winning money, or because it makes them feel entertained. There are healthier and more effective ways to relieve unpleasant feelings or boredom, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a new hobby, or using relaxation techniques.
Pathological gambling has been reclassified in the DSM-5 as a behavioral addiction, which is based on research showing that it shares many characteristics with substance abuse disorders (Petry, Bowden-Jones, & George, 2013).
There are currently no FDA-approved medications for treating pathological gambling. However, counseling can help with the thinking skills needed to overcome an addiction and develop coping strategies. There are also self-help sections on the NHS website that can be used to support someone struggling with gambling. They are free and confidential.