How to Recognise a Gambling Problem

Gambling involves risking something of value – such as money, or other valuables, like time and energy – to predict an outcome that’s determined at least partly by chance. It’s an activity that can be enjoyable for many people, but can also cause harm if someone becomes addicted to it or does not take steps to control their gambling behaviour.

The good news is that there are a variety of support services available for those who need it, including addiction counselling and help to stop or limit gambling. It’s important to recognise a problem with gambling early on, because it can have serious and lasting effects on health and wellbeing, relationships and performance at work or study. It can even lead to homelessness and serious financial problems.

A range of factors can make a person vulnerable to developing a gambling problem, but one of the key ones is that some people’s brains are wired differently to others. Research has shown that certain individuals may have an underactive brain reward system, and be genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. Other contributing factors include the culture that people live in, which can shape their thoughts and values about gambling and what constitutes a problem.

Many people gamble for social or coping reasons, to unwind after a stressful day or to spend time with friends. But there are better and healthier ways to self-soothe unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, trying out new hobbies or practicing relaxation techniques. People who struggle with compulsive gambling may also benefit from finding a peer support group to join, such as Gamblers Anonymous. This is a 12-step recovery program that’s modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous and can help people recover from gambling addiction and regain control of their lives.

As the availability and accessibility of gambling has expanded, psychologists have become increasingly concerned that more people are likely to develop a problem. This is particularly the case for young people – who are most likely to try out the latest forms of gambling, such as sports betting or video games with gambling elements.

It’s also important to remember that gambling is not just a ‘recreational’ activity, it’s often highly commercialised with flashy lights and enticing promotions. People can be lured into gambling through VIP schemes and targeted advertising on television and on the internet. And it can be difficult to stop, as casinos are often free of clocks and windows so that people can gamble for long periods without realising it.

To help you stop, set a time limit before you start and leave when it’s gone, whether you’re winning or losing. Keep track of how much you’re spending, and don’t gamble on credit. It’s also important to find other ways to occupy your mind – it’s not easy to give up gambling and can be very addictive. So it’s a good idea to make plans to fill your time, such as taking an alternative route to work that doesn’t pass a casino, or finding a hobby to replace it with.

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