The Dangers of Gambling

As much as we like to think of gambling as a harmless pastime, the truth is that it can have many negative effects. It can affect people’s health and relationships, their work and study performance, lead to addiction and even cause them to become homeless. Over half the population takes part in some form of gambling and for many this is not a problem, but a small percentage develop gambling disorder which is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a recurrent pattern of gambling that results in significant distress or impairment.

Gambling involves placing a bet on the outcome of an event that is determined by chance. This could be a football match, a lottery draw or a scratchcard. The person making the bet will choose what they want to win, which will be matched against ‘odds’, which are set by the betting company. The odds are a calculation of how likely it is that the individual will win, and how much they could win if they did.

The odds are calculated using a number of different factors, including previous history of winning, the amount of money that is being wagered and the likelihood of winning. It is important to remember that gambling does not necessarily require money; you can also gamble with materials that have value, such as marbles or collectable game pieces such as Pogs and Magic: The Gathering.

When someone is gambling, their brain is hijacked by a reward mechanism that causes them to feel good when they experience a positive outcome. This is similar to how you would feel after shooting a basketball into the basket or scoring a goal in a football match. This is because the brain produces a dopamine response when you achieve a desirable result. These positive emotions are what make gambling so appealing to some people.

For some individuals this is enough to keep them coming back, but for others the addiction begins to outweigh the entertainment value. Gambling can become a way to avoid boredom or stress, or it might be used as an escape, and this can have serious consequences for family, friends and work performance. Those who have an addiction to gambling may find that it is difficult to stop and this is why seeking help is so important.

There are a number of reasons why people become addicted to gambling, and these include:

It is important to recognise that not everyone with a problem gambles, but for those who do it can be harmful to their physical and emotional wellbeing, can damage their relationships, get them into debt and possibly lead to homelessness. It is a good idea to look out for these warning signs and to try to understand what motivates someone who is struggling with a gambling addiction, which will help you to support them.

There are a range of effective treatments for gambling addiction, including inpatient and residential care programmes. For more information visit the Gambling Trust website.