The word ‘gambling’ covers a wide range of activities, including betting on a football team to win, buying a scratchcard and even playing the lottery. However, gambling only becomes a problem when it causes someone to lose control and become obsessed with the activity. The good news is that help is available to those who are struggling with gambling addiction.
People gamble for many reasons – it can be for the thrill of winning money, to socialise or to escape from boredom or stress. But for some, it can become a habit which is difficult to break. Problem gamblers can end up spending more than they can afford, borrowing money or feeling stressed and anxious about their gambling habits.
How do you know if gambling is a problem for you? Symptoms of gambling disorder can start as early as adolescence and include an urge to gamble, difficulty controlling your actions while gambling, hiding or lying about gambling and experiencing withdrawal when not gambling. Often, symptoms will occur alongside other problems such as depression and anxiety.
Gambling is a type of addiction, like drugs and alcohol, and can affect anyone. It can cause financial difficulties, damage relationships and lead to feelings of powerlessness. In addition, gambling can be addictive because it gives the same feel-good reward as taking a drug or drinking alcohol. This is because the brain produces dopamine – a chemical that makes us feel happy – when we gamble.
It is also possible to build a tolerance to gambling, meaning that you need to bet more and more in order to get the same buzz. As a result, you are more likely to suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you stop.
There are a number of factors that can lead to problematic gambling, including an early big win, boredom susceptibility, impulsivity, use of escape coping and stressful life experiences. It is important to address these issues, which can often be treated with therapy.
Another thing to note is that there is a link between gambling problems and thoughts of suicide. If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, call 999 or visit A&E immediately.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be affected by gambling addiction, it is important to seek support as soon as possible. Treatment options can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, group therapy and family therapy. In some cases, medication may be used to help manage symptoms. The first step is recognising that there is a problem, which can be challenging for some people as they might feel shame or guilt about admitting they have a problem. If you need help, there are a number of charities and organisations that can provide support, advice and guidance. You can also speak to a debt adviser at StepChange for free and confidential debt advice. They can talk you through your options and find a solution that suits you. Alternatively, you can contact Gamblers Anonymous for support.