Gambling is the risking of something of value, such as money or property, on an event whose outcome is determined by chance or accident. It is an addictive activity that can have serious effects on people’s mental health.
Some people enjoy gambling for the adrenaline rush it can provide, to socialise with friends or escape from worries and stress. For others, however, gambling can become a problem which can lead to financial problems, debt and even suicide.
Those with pathological gambling (PG) experience persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that are more severe than those who gamble for fun or occasionally. It is characterized by a preoccupation with gambling and frequent thoughts about it, a desire to stop gambling, unsuccessful attempts to do so, and recurrent episodes of compulsive gambling. PG usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common in men than in women. It often coexists with other psychiatric disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse. It is associated with high rates of suicide, and a high comorbidity with other forms of gambling.
People can be addicted to many different types of gambling, including lotteries, racing, card games, casino games and internet gambling. However, the most dangerous gambling activity is probably online poker, where people can bet large sums of money without ever leaving home.
The risk of gambling addiction increases with age, and is more likely to affect men than women. It is also more common amongst those with a family history of gambling or those who have a history of depression, anxiety, other mental health problems or eating disorders. People who are in financial crisis are also more likely to engage in harmful gambling behaviors.
Gambling is a complex and addictive activity, and there are no medications to treat it directly. Instead, the best treatment is to seek help for any underlying mood disorders and to set boundaries around managing money. This may involve putting someone else in charge of finances, closing online betting accounts and setting limits on credit cards.
There are some warning signs that a person’s gambling is becoming problematic, such as:
The best thing to do if you think someone you know has a problem with gambling is to talk about it. Don’t criticize or make judgments, and be sure to listen carefully to what they have to say. Then, if you can, help them to get the treatment they need. This might include calling a hotline, visiting a mental health professional or joining Gamblers Anonymous. Be patient and supportive, and remember that the earlier a person with gambling disorder gets help, the better. The more you can support them, the more likely they will be to seek help. In addition, you can try to find out what motivates them to gamble, which might help you understand and empathise with them. These reasons might include: