Is Gambling Getting Out of Control?

Whether it’s throwing dice, playing cards, betting on horse races or pulling the lever of a slot machine, gambling involves placing something of value on a random event with the hope of winning something else. Problem gambling can harm a person’s mental health and relationships, performance at work or study and even lead to homelessness.

People gamble for many reasons: they might enjoy the adrenaline rush of winning money, socialise with friends or escape from boredom or stress. But gambling can become a problem when it’s no longer a way to have fun or profit and starts to cause harm.

Problem gambling affects anyone and can occur in people of all ages and backgrounds. It can impact people from all races and religions, and in people from small towns and large cities. It can be as common in men as it is in women, and people from all socioeconomic classes. People who experience problems with gambling can be any age, and are likely to have a mix of risk factors including impulsivity, a poor understanding of probability and the use of gambling as a way to escape from boredom or stress.

Gambling is an addictive behaviour because it triggers a dopamine response in the brain that reinforces positive outcomes and stops us from noticing when things are going wrong. This is why it’s important to understand the risk factors and seek help if you think you might have a gambling problem.

Despite this, it’s easy for people to deny their gambling is getting out of control and try to convince themselves they can stop or take steps to minimise their losses. They might lie to family and friends about how much they’re spending or hide evidence of their gambling activities. They might also up their bets in a bid to win back lost money.

Gamblers often feel like they are in control when they’re playing, because they can choose how much to bet and they can see other people around them gambling. However, gambling is a game of chance and the odds of winning are always low. People who develop a gambling problem are susceptible to a range of risk factors, including an early big win, boredom susceptibility, impulsivity, a poor understanding of random events and the use of gambling as an escape from stress.

If someone you care about is struggling with a gambling addiction, get them help and support. It’s important to talk about how the problem is affecting them, and seek advice if needed from a GP or therapist. You can also join a support group for problem gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous. This is a 12-step program modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous, which can help you reclaim your life and overcome a gambling problem. You can find a local meeting near you here. Alternatively, you can contact the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Advice Service for further help and guidance. You can also contact your local NHS trust for further support and information.