Whether it’s placing a bet on your favourite football team or buying a Lotto ticket, gambling involves putting something at risk in exchange for the chance to win money. But what does it mean for your mental health and why is gambling so addictive?
Gambling can be a social activity and people often enjoy it for the entertainment value. But the risks of losing large amounts of money can have serious financial consequences. And there is a link between mental health problems and gambling addiction. For example, it’s more common for those with depression to have a gambling problem. And if you’re feeling down or have thoughts of suicide, please call 999 or visit A&E immediately.
One of the biggest reasons that gambling is so addictive is the uncertainty of reward. The brain releases the pleasure chemical dopamine when we expect a reward, and this is what drives many gambling behaviours. In addition, the high stakes involved in gambling can make you feel like you’re in control – even though you know you aren’t.
If you have a friend or family member with gambling disorder, help them seek treatment as soon as possible. This might involve speaking to their GP, a counsellor or other healthcare professional or joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. The earlier they receive treatment, the better their chances of recovery are. Also, try to be supportive without being judgmental and suggest alternative ways of relieving unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or taking up a new hobby.