Gambling is a form of risk taking in which an individual places something of value (often money) on the outcome of a game involving chance, such as a football match or scratchcard. It’s a popular pastime but there are risks involved and some people develop problems with it. These problems can be serious, but the good news is that help is available. In this article you’ll find out more about gambling, how it affects our brain and how you can recognise if you have a problem yourself.
The main cause of problems with gambling is the high levels of dopamine that are released when we gamble. This neurotransmitter makes us feel excited and happy but it can have a negative impact on your life if you’re addicted. Problem gambling is most common among young people, particularly men and those who live in poorer families, where they have more to lose. It can also affect vulnerable groups, such as those who are in debt or experiencing mental health problems.
Many studies have looked at the economic costs and benefits of gambling but they have often overlooked other impacts, such as social, labor and health and well-being. These are harder to quantify and can affect people who don’t gamble themselves. Social impacts can also have long-term effects and be felt across generations.
Research has shown that gambling can lead to problems such as family conflict, feelings of guilt and shame, increased stress, depression and anxiety, loss of connection to your cultural community, and a feeling of being lost. It can also lead to self-harm and, in extreme cases, suicide. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or have tried to take your own life, please seek help as soon as possible.
The following checklists can help you decide if your gambling is causing a problem for yourself or someone close to you. The questions cover a wide range of areas, from whether you gamble to escape difficulties or cheer yourself up to whether you keep playing to try and win back money you’ve lost – known as chasing losses. If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s important that you speak with your GP or NHS and seek support as soon as possible.