The Dangers of Gambling
Gambling is any game of chance or skill in which players wager something of value (often money) with the hope of winning a prize. Whether it involves the cost of a lottery ticket, or placing bets on sports events, casino games, poker, bingo, scratchcards or video poker, gambling is an international activity that requires three elements: consideration, risk, and a prize. In some cases, players place bets with materials that have value, but are not money – for example, marbles in games of chance, or collectible trading cards in games of skill such as Magic: The Gathering.
The act of gambling triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. This reward pathway is similar to those activated by taking drugs of abuse, and can result in the same addictive behavior. This is why gambling is so dangerous and hard to stop.
A variety of factors contribute to the development of gambling problems, including genetics and environment. Other contributors are mood disorders like depression, stress or anxiety, and substance use – which can both trigger problem gambling, and make it harder to quit. Gambling is also often accompanied by feelings of anger or guilt, which can make people impulsive and prone to risky behaviors.
There are a number of ways to protect yourself from gambling addiction, starting with controlling your cash. See the Better Health Channel fact sheet ‘Gambling – financial issues’ for tips. It is also a good idea to fill in the gaps in your life that gambling has created, with hobbies and other activities. This will help you find a new source of fun and satisfaction, and give you the space to work on your gambling problems.
Many people with gambling problems try to hide their gambling and avoid telling anyone about it. They may even lie about the amount of time they spend gambling. It is important to recognise the signs of a problem and seek professional help as soon as possible.
Gambling can be harmful for a variety of reasons, and it is often difficult to recognise that there is a problem. If you are worried about a loved one who is gambling, talk to them about it. It is not helpful to blame them, but it will be useful to understand their motivations and the effects of gambling on them. For instance, they may gamble to escape from their worries, or because it makes them feel self-confident. These are all coping reasons, but they shouldn’t be used to excuse problem gambling behaviour. They can help to explain why your loved one is unable to quit. They are likely to need help to quit gambling forever.