Gambling is when you risk money or anything else of value to predict the outcome of a game involving chance, such as casino games, scratch cards, fruit machines and betting with friends on football accumulators. There’s even an online version of this activity that allows you to place bets on the outcome of real-life events such as sporting matches, elections and business deals. While gambling can be fun and exciting, for some people it becomes an addictive habit. This can lead to financial problems, health issues and even strained relationships. If you’re concerned about your own gambling habits or the habits of a loved one, there are ways to get help.
The first step in breaking a gambling addiction is admitting that there is a problem. It can take a lot of courage to do this, especially if you’ve lost a lot of money and have strained or broken ties with family members and friends. You’ll probably feel irritable and anxious as you begin to let go of this habit, and it may not be easy at first. But if you stick with your plan, and don’t give in to the temptations of casinos or TABs on the way to work, you’ll soon start to feel more at ease.
Whether you’re playing casino games, betting on horse races or football accumulators or buying lottery tickets, your brain releases dopamine every time you gamble, which is why it feels so good. This neurological reward is why people continue to play, even when they’re losing money. In order to prevent this, it’s important to set a fixed amount of money that you’re prepared to lose and never chase your losses. This means only betting with money that you’re able to afford to lose, and leaving your credit card at home before heading into the casino.
There is a wide range of treatment options for problem gambling. Some of the most effective approaches use cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches you to resist unwanted thoughts and habits, including those associated with gambling. You’ll learn to confront irrational beliefs such as the belief that a string of losses or a near miss—say, two out of three cherries on a slot machine—is an indication that you’re due for a big win.
Medications can also be used to treat problematic gambling. They can help control the symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder that can trigger gambling, and are often used in conjunction with other treatments. Inpatient or residential treatment programs can be an option for those with severe problem gambling who are unable to avoid gambling without round-the-clock support.