Gambling involves betting something of value on an event that is determined at least partly by chance with the hope of winning. It is a common activity that can lead to serious problems for some people. It may include activities such as playing bingo, buying lottery or scratch cards, or even placing a bet on the outcome of a sporting event. In addition, gambling can also include activities that require skill, such as poker, baccarat or blackjack.
While most people gamble for fun and only with money they can afford to lose, some become addicted. For those who are unable to control their gambling and experience significant harm as a result, treatment is available. Treatment for problem gambling is usually based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps people understand their gambling behaviour and how it affects them. It focuses on changing negative thinking patterns, such as irrational beliefs about the likelihood of winning and losing. CBT also teaches behavioural techniques to help people stop gambling and cope with their urges.
Genetics and brain circuitry may contribute to the development of gambling problems. Several studies have linked gambling problems with differences in how the brain processes rewards and impulses, and how individuals control their risk-taking. People with certain genetics, such as an underactive brain reward system, may be more predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsiveness. Some people, especially those from cultures that value gambling, may find it difficult to recognise when their gambling is out of control.
Biologically, gambling can trigger a release of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of excitement and pleasure. This may explain why some people struggle to recognize when it is time to quit, and why they often feel compelled to continue gambling even when they are losing money.
A key part of overcoming a gambling addiction is building strong support networks and finding other ways to socialise. Consider joining a book club or sports team, enrolling in a class or volunteering to help a charity. You can also seek out peer support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you think that you might be struggling with gambling problems, seek professional help as soon as possible. If you are worried about the gambling habits of a family member or friend, talk to them about it. Try to avoid blaming them for their addiction, and be honest about your own experiences. If you are concerned that your own gambling is becoming a problem, set limits on how much you will spend and how long you will play for. Never chase your losses – believing that you are due for a win will only increase your chances of future losses. Be sure to keep only a small amount of cash with you at all times, and close online betting accounts. In severe cases, there are inpatient or residential treatments and rehabilitation programs that can offer round-the-clock support.