Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value on a random event with the aim of winning some other value. In the past, this has included betting on horse or greyhound races, football accumulators and elections. Today, many gambling activities take place online or over the phone. Some people with a gambling problem find it difficult to stop. They may try to manage their addiction by spending less time gambling or cutting down on the amount they gamble. If the problem persists, they may seek help.
Gambling may be used to relieve unpleasant feelings such as boredom, loneliness, stress, or anger and anxiety. It can also be used to socialize with others or make money. However, there are healthier and safer ways to cope with unpleasant emotions, such as exercise, talking to friends who don’t gamble, practicing relaxation techniques, or getting support from a therapist. People who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders can be particularly vulnerable to harmful gambling behaviour.
Research has found that gambling is a form of impulsiveness. It is characterized by the lack of ability to delay gratification, an inability to control impulses and an impaired ability to weigh up risk against potential rewards. In addition, it has been linked with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety and with substance abuse.
While the evidence suggests that the link between impulsiveness and gambling is causal, it is not clear which of the many possible risk factors is the most important one. This is because the evidence supports a wide range of possible mechanisms, including cognitive distortions, mood disorders, and impaired motivation and attention.
Individuals with a gambling problem may be influenced by their family, their social environment and cultural influences. They can also develop a gambling problem due to their personal circumstances such as unemployment, mental health issues, relationship difficulties and poverty. Adolescents who have experienced early childhood trauma can also have problems with gambling later in life.
Some forms of gambling are more addictive than others. For example, slot machines, video-draw poker and fruit machines are more addictive than card games such as baccarat or blackjack. If you’re thinking of trying out a new casino game, set yourself a limit on how much you can afford to lose and stick to it. Also, don’t chase your losses – never think you’re “due for a win” or that you can just keep playing to get back what you’ve lost. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy and it can lead to more serious problems. If you’re worried about your gambling habits speak to a debt adviser at StepChange for free, confidential debt advice.