Whether you play the lotto, bet on the football or scratchcards, or take a spin at video poker or slot machines, gambling is about risking something of value (like money) in the hope of winning. It’s one of mankind’s earliest activities, as evidenced by writings and equipment found in tombs and other places. It’s also one of the most addictive. People gamble for many reasons – the thrill of winning, socialising with friends or even to escape from worries or stress. But for some, it can become a serious problem. If you find yourself betting more than you can afford to lose, lying to your family and therapist about how much you’re spending on gambling or relying on others for money, you may have a gambling problem.
Gambling can send massive surges of dopamine through your brain, and this can have some negative effects on your mental health. For example, high levels of dopamine can lead you to seek pleasure from non-essential activities and neglect the things you really need in life like food and shelter. It can also cause you to feel depressed and anxious, and it’s a common cause of suicide and suicidal thoughts.
People who have a mental health condition are more at risk of harmful gambling, but it can affect anyone. There’s a link between depression and gambling, and over time this can make your symptoms worse. Those who have financial problems are also at greater risk of harmful gambling. This can be caused by a lack of income, debt or an inability to pay bills. It can also be a reaction to events such as relationship break-ups, unemployment or medical problems.
If you’re having trouble with gambling, or know someone who is, it’s important to get help and support as soon as possible. There are a number of things you can do, including seeing your doctor, joining a support group, taking anti-depressants or talking to StepChange for free debt advice.
Only gamble with money that you can afford to lose. Don’t use money that you need to pay bills or rent. Set a budget for yourself, and only spend that amount. If you win, treat it as a bonus. If you lose, don’t try to recoup your losses by gambling more. This is known as chasing your losses and it will usually end in more lost money, as well as harm to your health and relationships.