Dealing With Gambling Harms


Gambling is an activity that involves taking a risk on something of value, such as money, property or reputation. It can be a fun and entertaining activity, but it can also have serious consequences for individuals, families, communities and the economy. People who gamble can experience a wide range of harms, including mental health problems, financial difficulties and relationship difficulties. In addition, gambling can have a negative impact on work performance and social life.

People may start gambling to escape boredom, feel depressed or stressed out, or they may find it difficult to cope with stressful events in their lives. It can be hard to recognise a problem, as many people will hide their gambling or lie about it to those around them, thinking that they won’t understand or that they might surprise others with a big win. Some people will even start to spend more and more time gambling, or make excuses to get out of going to work or other commitments.

Some people have a ‘natural’ ability to bet, or are predisposed to develop gambling addiction. This can be down to genetics or an environment that encourages gambling, such as being in a family where it’s a normal part of entertainment. People with a predisposition to gambling are often impulsive, and have difficulty making decisions that take into account the long-term effects of their actions.

This can be partly due to a psychological phenomenon known as partial reinforcement: when an individual receives positive feedback, they want to continue doing whatever they’re doing in order to experience the euphoria again. Gambling can provide a temporary rush of pleasure, but this doesn’t last and the person soon finds that they need to gamble more and more in order to feel the same effect.

Another reason people keep gambling is because they overestimate the chances of winning, or they ‘habituate’, which means that they become accustomed to losing and then expect to have a streak of wins. This is because of the way that the brain works, as it can recall examples from the past such as winning lottery tickets or a lucky run on the slots. However, these are just isolated examples and the chances of winning or losing do not change.

There are a number of ways to deal with harmful gambling, and some people find that peer support groups can be helpful. These are usually based on the 12-step model used by Alcoholics Anonymous, and include finding a sponsor (a person with experience of gambling addiction) and working through the steps of recovery.

Other ways to cope with unpleasant emotions can be exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or learning new hobbies. There are also a number of organisations which offer help, assistance and counselling for people who have problem gambling, and which can refer them to treatment services. These can be found in the directory on this site. Those struggling with gambling should also seek medical advice.

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