Gambling involves risking money or something of value on an event whose outcome depends upon chance, such as a toss of a coin or the spin of a roulette wheel. It is a form of entertainment and many people enjoy it, but some people can become addicted to gambling. In fact, pathological gambling is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an addiction. The DSM is the medical textbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders.
Most people have gambled in some form at some point in their lives, and most do so without any problems. However, a small percentage of people develop gambling disorder, which is recognised as an addiction – much like drugs or alcohol – and can cause significant distress and problems in their lives.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to gambling disorder. Many of these are behavioural, but some may also be genetic or psychological predispositions. For example, people who have a certain type of brain chemistry – often referred to as ‘thrill seeking’ – are more likely to become addicted to gambling than those who do not. Also, some people are more sensitive to losses than gains, meaning that they feel a greater emotional reaction to losing than they do to winning.
Another factor that can contribute to gambling disorder is that it triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel excited. This surge in dopamine can trigger a reward circuit in the brain, encouraging you to continue gambling to reap the rewards. Over time, this can change your brain chemistry and desensitise you to the rewards, making it harder to stop gambling.
Despite the excitement and rewards that gambling can offer, it is important to remember that it is always a risky activity. In addition, many people with gambling disorder are unable to recognize when they have a problem. This can be due to the culture in which they live, which may encourage them to view gambling as a normal pastime and make it difficult for them to seek help.
If you or someone you know has a gambling disorder, there are a few things you can do to help. First, you can strengthen your support network by reaching out to family and friends. You can also seek help for underlying mood disorders, such as depression, stress, or substance abuse, which can both trigger gambling problems and be made worse by compulsive gambling. Finally, you can take steps to protect your finances and make it more difficult to gamble by removing credit cards from your wallet, having someone else in charge of your money, closing online betting accounts, and only keeping a small amount of cash on hand. This can all be a great help in breaking the cycle. You can also find help and support by joining a gambling recovery group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous.