Gambling is an activity that involves putting something of value (such as money, merchandise, or services) on an event with a variable outcome. In some cases, this is as simple as betting on a football team to win a game, or buying a scratchcard. The result of the event is determined, at least to some extent, by the ‘odds’ set by the gambling company (which can be found on the ticket or leaflet). The odds are calculated by multiplying the probability that the gambler will win by the amount of money they put on the line.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a maladaptive pattern of gambling behavior that causes significant distress and/or problems in multiple areas of the person’s life. Symptoms can include:
Trying to get even after losing money in gambling (chasing losses); lying to family members, a therapist, or others about the extent of involvement with gambling; engaging in illegal activities such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement in order to fund gambling; jeopardizing or lost a job, educational or career opportunity, or relationship because of gambling; relying on other people to finance gambling; and/or stealing from friends and relatives to fund gambling. PG is most prevalent in people who engage in strategic or face-to-face gambling (such as blackjack, poker, and bingo), but can also be found in those who engage in nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling such as slot machines and pull-tab games.
Humans are biologically driven to seek rewards, whether it be spending time with a loved one, eating a tasty meal, or winning a jackpot. Gambling triggers a similar reward system in the brain, which can become addictive.
The earliest signs of a gambling problem can be difficult to recognize, but they are important to identify and address. Some early warning signs can include:
The best way to help someone with a gambling problem is to talk openly and honestly about the issue and encourage them to seek treatment. This can be done by calling a helpline, talking to a healthcare provider or mental health professional, or joining a support group like Gamblers Anonymous.
Another helpful tool is to encourage physical activity, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, or yoga. Some studies have shown that this can help reduce the symptoms of a gambling addiction. Other tools can be used in conjunction with these, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.