Gambling involves placing something of value on a random event that could yield a prize. It can be done in casinos, lotteries, or even online. In order to be considered gambling, there are four elements that must be present: consideration, risk, and a prize. Whether you’re playing in the casino or betting on sports, it can be dangerous to your mental health if it becomes addictive.
While most adults and adolescents have placed a bet, only a small percentage develop gambling disorder, which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as “a pattern of excessive and problematic gambling that causes significant distress or impairment.” The most vulnerable individuals are those who have the least to gain with a big win, such as low-income people, and younger people—boys and men more than women. Additionally, many people who experience a gambling addiction have a family history of the disorder, suggesting a genetic link.
The reason gambling can become so addictive is that it triggers a reward center in the brain. Humans are biologically programmed to seek rewards that make them feel good, like spending time with a loved one or eating a delicious meal. These experiences send a surge of pleasure-inducing chemicals, called dopamine, through the body, which motivates us to continue doing those activities. However, gambling can also trigger a dopamine surge, but it does not motivate us to engage in healthy behaviors, such as exercising, working, or preparing meals. This imbalance results in an unhealthy cycle where you seek out more pleasure from gambling and less from healthier behaviors.
There are a few things you can do to help combat gambling addiction, including building a strong support network and taking steps to avoid places where it is common to gamble. Getting a therapist is also a great idea. A therapist can help you identify the underlying problems that lead to your addiction, and teach you skills to manage your urges.
Another option is to participate in a gambling treatment program, which often uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help address the beliefs that cause your urges, such as believing you are more likely to win than others, that certain rituals will bring you luck, and that you can recover lost money by gambling more.
The first step to overcoming gambling addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money or have strained your relationships as a result. However, it is essential to the success of your recovery. Seek support from friends and family, and consider joining a peer-support group such as Gamblers Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition, there are a number of other support services available, such as the National Helpline or a local gambling helpline. It is also helpful to take a break from gambling, and consider alternative ways to get a thrill, such as going for a run or spending time with family and friends.