Is Gambling an Addiction?

Gambling involves risking something of value, such as money or items of personal possession, on an event that relies on chance to determine its outcome. It can take many forms, from placing a bet on the result of a game of sports to playing video games or fruit machines. While some people can easily stop gambling once they have had a few wins, others become addicted to the activity and continue even when it negatively impacts their finances, work or family relationships.

A major reason why gambling is so addictive is because it stimulates the brain’s reward center. Humans are biologically programmed to seek rewards. When we spend time with loved ones, eat a tasty meal or exercise, our brains release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Because gambling is so much like these activities, the rewards can be just as great – even though they are not healthy.

Other factors that contribute to problematic gambling include a tendency towards thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity, genetic predispositions, the environment in which they grow up and the culture that surrounds them, which can influence their view of what constitutes a gamble and whether it is an addiction. For example, some communities think of gambling as a social pastime and therefore have difficulty recognising it as an addiction.

When a person begins gambling, they start by choosing what to bet on – this could be a football match or buying a scratchcard. Then they match their choice to ‘odds’, which are set by the betting company and determine how much money they could win. For most people, the odds of winning are far greater than losing. However, people are more sensitive to losses than they are to gains of equal value, which means that when someone loses a lot of money, it feels much worse than finding PS10 on the ground. This can lead to a cycle where people invest more and more time and money in attempts to make up for previous losses, only to end up even further behind.

This cycle is why it’s important to treat gambling as entertainment, not a source of income. It’s also a good idea to set limits before you begin gambling, and to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with or replace other enjoyable hobbies and activities. Don’t use credit cards to gamble, and don’t try to ‘chase’ your lost money – the more you invest in trying to make up for your losses, the more likely you are to continue losing. You should also ensure that you have enough other activities in your life to keep you from being bored, and avoid gambling when you’re under stress or anxious. If you are struggling with a gambling problem, there are lots of ways to get help. Talk to a friend or family member, or consider attending a support group for gamblers. For severe cases, there are inpatient and residential treatment programs available. In 2013, pathological gambling was recognised as an addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, alongside substance abuse and some types of personality disorders.