Whether it’s placing bets on sports events, scratch cards, roulette, poker or slots in a casino, at the race track or online, gambling is not without its risks. It can become an unhealthy obsession that puts strain on relationships, interferes with work and even leads to financial disaster. The good news is that help is available for those who need it.
Pathological gambling (PG) is characterized by a pattern of recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior. It typically starts in adolescence or early adulthood, and the gender ratio of males to females affected is 2:1. PG is more likely to occur with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as card games, casino games, and horse races. Those with PG often attempt to recover from their addiction through self-reflection, counseling, and support groups.
While it’s true that gambling can offer a rush of excitement and even the chance to win money, many people find it difficult to control their urges. This can be especially problematic for those who use gambling to try to relieve negative feelings, such as boredom or stress, or to socialize with friends. It’s important to remember that there are healthier and safer ways of coping with these emotions, such as exercise, spending time with non-gambling friends, and using relaxation techniques.
Gambling can trigger mood disorders, such as depression, and a large proportion of those with a PG diagnosis also have a mood disorder. Mood disorders are characterized by depressive symptoms, such as low energy and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. They can affect a person’s appetite, sleep patterns, and concentration, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks. Those with mood disorders are also at risk for self-soothing and may turn to gambling as a way of dealing with unpleasant or difficult feelings.
While research on gambling and its effects is limited, we do know that repeated exposure to uncertainty causes lasting changes in the brain. These changes are similar to those that happen in drug users and can contribute to their cravings. In addition, studies show that gamblers often report a sense of relief and satisfaction when they win, which can mask other symptoms of a gambling problem. The best advice is to never gamble with money that needs to be used to pay for essentials such as rent and food. Instead, only gamble with disposable income and always set a time limit to keep gambling to a minimum.