Whether buying a lotto ticket, betting on sports events or scratching a scratchcard, gambling can be an enjoyable pastime but it’s important to remember that it is also risky. Even if you only bet occasionally, it’s best to consider how much money you can afford to lose before you start. Gambling can cause mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, so it’s essential to seek help if you think your gambling is causing harm.
A gambling addiction is a serious psychiatric condition characterized by compulsive and excessive betting, and the loss of control over gambling. Previously, pathological gambling was viewed as a type of impulse control disorder, alongside kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (burning) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). But in May this year, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling to the addictions chapter of its manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This decision is a recognition that gambling is a disorder in its own right, and that it shares many of the same biological features as other addictions.
People gamble for many reasons, from the thrill of winning to socializing with friends. However, some people are more at risk of a gambling problem than others. For example, people who are depressed or in financial difficulties are more likely to turn to gambling as a way of alleviating their symptoms. In addition, a relationship with an abusive partner is a significant risk factor for harmful gambling. In extreme cases, gambling can lead to self-harm or even suicide, so if you have thoughts of taking your life, call 999 or go to A&E immediately.
The first step in getting help is to talk to a friend or family member, or to seek out support from a community organisation such as Gamblers Anonymous. You could also try a cognitive behavioural therapy approach, such as CBT, to look at your beliefs around gambling. This may include the belief that certain rituals can bring you luck, or the assumption that you can win back your losses by gambling more.
Taking steps to manage your gambling is crucial, especially since it’s so easy to do. The simplest thing is to only ever gamble with money you can afford to lose. Set money and time limits, and make it a rule not to gamble with your weekly entertainment or phone bill budgets. And never chase your losses, as this will usually just lead to bigger losses. Finally, avoid gambling when you’re feeling down or upset, as this can make your problems worse. Finally, if you’re struggling to pay your debts, speak to a debt advisor at StepChange. They can offer free, confidential advice. They can also help you set up a repayment plan to suit your circumstances. Find out more on their website. Alternatively, visit your GP if you feel that you’re suffering from gambling problems. They’ll be able to refer you to specialist services if necessary.