Pathological Gambling

Gambling is a type of risk-taking where people place something of value (typically money) on an event with an element of chance. It can be done with anything from scratchcards and lottery tickets to poker chips, dice, horse races, sports events, slots machines, or even virtual games. It is often considered a fun pastime but it can become problematic when a person becomes addicted to gambling. This is referred to as pathological gambling, and it was recognised as a disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Some people gamble for the adrenaline rush, to socialise or to escape from stress and worries. However, there are many healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a new hobby, or using relaxation techniques. In addition, if someone is feeling lonely or bored it can be helpful to talk with a friend, seek treatment, or join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous.

Research has found that the risk of developing a gambling problem increases with age, and the tendency to gamble is stronger among men than women. It is also known that a person’s family, culture and environment can influence whether they develop a gambling problem.

Understanding what drives a person to gamble can help with managing the behaviour. It is important to recognise that a loved one may have been using gambling as a coping mechanism or for emotional reasons, and that this doesn’t necessarily absolve them of responsibility. People who have been diagnosed with a gambling problem are likely to hide their gambling activity and lie about how much they spend, so it can be hard for friends and family to know when a gambler is in trouble.

One reason that gambling can be addictive is because of the release of dopamine when a gambler wins, which makes them feel good. They may then keep playing to try and win more, and as they continue to lose, their self-esteem and mood can decline. They might also start to feel angry, stressed and anxious.

Another factor that can make gambling addictive is a ‘chance illusion’, whereby people tend to overestimate the probability of winning or losing because they have been reinforced by previous experiences. For example, if a person has been fortunate and won several times in a row, they will believe that the next flip is more likely to be heads than tails. In reality, each individual spin of a coin has the same probability of being heads or tails. The likelihood of a win does not increase or decrease based on previous outcomes. This is why it is important to learn the facts about gambling before you start. This will help you to keep your gambling under control and avoid becoming a gambling addict.