Whether it’s buying a lotto ticket, placing a bet on the horse races or using the pokies, many of us gamble from time to time. However, gambling can become a serious problem and cause harm to people’s physical health, relationships and finances. It can also impact on performance at work or study, lead to serious debt and even result in homelessness. It can also be a trigger for other mood disorders like depression or anxiety. In this article, we look at the definition of gambling, how it works, the risks and what to do if you’re worried about your own or someone close to you’s gambling habits.
Gambling is the wagering of something of value (money or anything else) on an outcome involving chance. It requires three things: consideration, risk and a prize. The prize can be a small amount of money or other goods and services, such as a holiday. Gambling is distinguished from everyday risk-taking activities by the fact that it involves a large amount of money or other valuables and usually takes place in a structured environment where there are set rules and limits.
While some forms of gambling may be viewed as socially acceptable, others can become problematic, especially when they involve addictive behaviour. Pathological gambling (PG) is a disorder characterised by recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior. It affects men and women equally and is more common in people who have a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts, substance misuse, or psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder.
Some behavioural changes that can help prevent gambling from becoming a problem include not playing with money you haven’t set aside for entertainment, setting financial and time limits, and avoiding gambling venues or products when feeling depressed or stressed. Practicing healthier ways of dealing with unpleasant emotions or relieving boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up new hobbies and practicing relaxation techniques, can also be helpful.
Other important changes that can help reduce the risk of gambling problems include educating yourself about how gambling works and understanding its effects. Keeping track of your wins and losses is an effective way to keep control of your gambling. It is advisable to avoid gambling when you’re in a depressed or anxious mood and never chase your losses. The more you try to win back your losses, the more likely it is that you will lose bigger.
If you’re concerned about the level of gambling in your life, seek professional help. It’s often difficult for people who are affected by gambling to admit they have a problem, particularly when they have lost significant amounts of money or it has impacted on their relationships. But it is possible to break free from the gambling trap and rebuild your life. Talking about your problem with a trusted person who won’t judge you, such as a family member or counsellor, can be a huge step towards recovery.