Gambling is a love/hate activity that divides the world. In some countries it’s strictly illegal, while in others – like Nevada, the home of Las Vegas – gambling is a big industry and heavily regulated. It’s also a very addictive activity, and many people struggle with compulsive gambling.
The science behind gambling is complex and has changed a lot in recent years. It’s now known that certain chemicals in the brain can trigger addiction. It’s also known that a person’s personality and coexisting mental health conditions play a role in their addiction. In addition, there’s an understanding that some people are genetically predisposed to it. This is why, earlier this year in the UK, MPs called for a review of how gambling is treated by the law.
Whether it’s betting on a football match, playing a scratchcard or a slot machine, gambling is a risky activity. You’re placing something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. There are some forms of gambling that are considered low-odds (for example, a lottery) while others are higher-odds, such as blackjack or poker. The key to safe gambling is that you should only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and don’t chase your losses – this will usually only lead to bigger and bigger losses.
It’s also important to remember that gambling is not a reliable way to get happiness. Happiness comes from a variety of sources, including spending time with loved ones, eating healthy food and exercising. When you gamble, the reward centres in your brain are activated but it’s unlikely that this will make you happy for long.
Another common risk is that you may start to rely on your gambling activities to relieve unpleasant emotions such as boredom or loneliness. This can have serious consequences, such as depression or anxiety. It’s best to seek help if you’re having these feelings, and try other ways of relieving them. These could include exercise, meditation, socialising with non-gambling friends and practicing relaxation techniques.
There are some ways to help with a gambling problem, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can look at your beliefs around betting and how you think about it. For example, if you believe that certain rituals can bring luck or that you’re more likely to win when you gamble more, CBT can teach you new, healthier beliefs.
If you’re having trouble with your gambling, talk to your doctor or a therapist. You can also try seeking support from a gambling disorder organisation such as Gamblers Anonymous. They can offer you free counselling, group therapy and information about treatment options. In some cases, you may need residential treatment or rehab if your addiction is severe. These programmes are often intensive and involve round the clock care. In some cases, they are provided by the state or local government. Some are also offered by private organisations.