Gambling is a risky activity where people place something of value, such as money or items of sentimental value, on an event with an element of chance. This can be done through betting on sports events, playing casino games, scratchcards and fruit machines. If they get it right, they win money. If they’re wrong, they lose the money or items of value. It can become a dangerous addiction, especially in the young and old. It can also lead to relationship and financial problems.
It’s important to recognise the signs that gambling has gone too far and take steps to stop it before it becomes too late. These include lying, hiding spending or time spent gambling and secretive behaviour. Keeping an eye on your bank account and never gambling with money that you need to pay bills or rent is key. Set yourself time and money limits before you start and stick to them. Also, never gamble when you’re feeling stressed or down. It’s easy to think you’re due a big win and try and recoup your losses, but this is known as the “gambler’s fallacy” and usually leads to bigger losses.
In the past, psychiatry tended to view pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, like kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). However, in a move that was widely hailed, the American Psychiatric Association included it in the latest edition of its diagnostic manual. It’s now classified as an impulse control disorder, along with kleptomania and pyromania.
The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to ancient China, with tiles unearthed from around 2,300 B.C. showing a rudimentary version of the game. More recent studies have found that up to 5% of people who gamble develop a gambling disorder, with men being more susceptible than women. Those who are poorer tend to be more at risk, as they have less to lose and more to gain with a winning streak.
The best way to tackle a gambling problem is with professional help, such as family therapy and marriage, career and credit counseling. These can work through the specific issues that have been caused by your gambling and lay the foundation for repairing your relationships and finances. It’s also important to find healthier ways of relieving unpleasant feelings and boredom. For example, you can try exercising, socialising with non-gambling friends, or trying relaxation techniques. In the worst cases, inpatient treatment and rehab programs are available for those who need round-the-clock care. They can help you learn coping skills and retrain your brain to avoid triggers that cause you to gamble. You may slip up from time to time, but it’s important to keep working towards recovery. It takes courage and commitment to overcome a gambling problem, but it’s possible with the right support.