How to Recognise a Gambling Problem

Gambling is when people risk something of value (like money or possessions) in an attempt to win a prize. It can take many forms, from playing card games with friends in a private setting to placing bets on football matches or horse races at the local bookmakers. Some gambling takes place on the internet, through video games or virtual casino sites. People may also gamble with items that have a fixed value, such as marbles or collectible game pieces (like pogs or Magic: The Gathering). Some forms of gambling are illegal in some countries, but this does not stop people engaging in them.

Most people who gamble do so for entertainment and the excitement of winning. However, for some, it becomes a problem. Their behaviour can affect their physical and mental health, relationships with others and performance at work or study. It can also lead to debt and even homelessness. Problem gambling can cause significant distress for loved ones too.

Those who develop gambling problems often experience feelings of shame, guilt and denial. They may hide their behaviour or lie to family, friends and employers. They might rely on other people to fund their gambling activity or cover up their losses. They might even pawn personal possessions in an effort to make back the money they have lost. They may also rely on drugs or alcohol to cope with stress.

There are several factors that can contribute to a person developing a gambling problem, including genetics, the environment, personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions. For example, a person’s genetics can affect how they process rewards and control their impulses. They might also be more prone to boredom or have a low self-esteem. The environment they are in can also influence their exposure to gambling and whether it is socially acceptable. Some cultures consider gambling a normal pastime and this can make it difficult to recognise a gambling problem.

For those with a gambling disorder, the reward system in their brain becomes overactive. They can’t regulate their emotions and become impulsive. Their brain’s ‘reward centre’ is flooded with dopamine, which makes them feel good and can lead to cravings for more rewards. The reward system is also impacted by the presence of alcohol or other drugs in their body, which can make them feel more impulsive and lead to an increased risk of gambling addiction.

There are a number of things that can trigger the development of gambling disorder, including an early big win, boredom susceptibility, a desire to escape boredom or stress, a poor understanding of random events, a use of gambling as a way to manage money and a lack of coping skills. These factors can combine to keep someone in a cycle of gambling, where they continually expect to replicate an early big win and become trapped by their own delusions. This can be very dangerous. If you are concerned about a friend or relative’s gambling, seek help and support for them.

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