Gambling is a form of entertainment whereby a person places a wager on an uncertain event with the intent of winning something of value. It is a behaviour that may become harmful and addictive in a minority of individuals (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Although gambling has been popular for centuries and is found across many cultures, it is important to remember that the odds are always against you.
The economic rationale for betting on events is similar to the logic of insurance premiums. However, in gambling there is the added element of the unknown – what will happen to the gambler’s money? As such, the monetary payoffs associated with gambling are likely to be negative, with an accumulating debt inevitable over a large number of trials. Despite these economic considerations, people continue to gamble for a variety of reasons. These include:
Biologically, humans are driven to seek rewards. When we spend time with loved ones, eat a delicious meal or gamble, the brain releases dopamine and we feel good. However, these feelings are often not as satisfying as the pleasures of other healthy activities, so it’s important to find more sustainable ways to reward yourself.
Some people gamble for social or emotional reasons, for example to relieve boredom, loneliness or stress. Others do it for financial reasons – to make money, or because they enjoy thinking about how much they could win.
It is also common for people to gamble as a way of unwinding after a stressful day, or following an argument with their partner. Regardless of the reason, it’s essential to find healthier and more effective ways to relieve unpleasant emotions and unwind, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a hobby or practicing relaxation techniques.
Research suggests that addiction to gambling can be treated using a combination of psychological and pharmacological interventions. Psychological treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. CBT is a structured, goal-oriented approach that helps a person take a closer look at their thoughts and beliefs and learn to challenge irrational beliefs. In gambling disorder, this can involve learning to overcome the idea that a series of losses or near misses on a slot machine are signals for an imminent win.
Motivational interviewing is a technique that empowers a person to analyze their problematic gambling behavior, and compare it with the behaviors of non-problematic gamblers. It can help them realize the negative effects of their gambling habits and commit to making changes. In severe cases, residential or inpatient treatment and rehabilitation programs are available to help people break the gambling habit and rebuild their lives. These programs typically combine the above treatments with other therapeutic strategies and are designed to provide round-the-clock support. Getting a grip on your gambling problem takes tremendous strength and courage, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money and strained or ruined relationships along the way. But you’re not alone; many other people have successfully overcome their addictions to gambling.