Gambling is an activity in which people place bets on events that have an outcome based on chance. This could include games of chance such as lottery numbers, horse races and card games. In some cases, gambling can become problematic and lead to addiction. When this happens, it is called compulsive gambling. It can cause serious mental health problems, including depression and thoughts of suicide. There is also a link between gambling and financial problems. People with mental health issues are more likely to gamble and may use gambling as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings or escape boredom. There are healthier and safer ways to manage these feelings. Talking therapies can help.
It is possible to overcome a gambling problem. However, it takes courage to admit that you have a problem. This can be especially difficult if you have lost money or strained relationships as a result of your gambling.
The way we understand gambling and addiction is changing. In the past, pathological gambling was classified as an impulse control disorder – a label for a collection of somewhat related illnesses such as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). In what is being hailed as a landmark decision, the psychiatric community has moved to classify pathological gambling as an addiction. This move has already had a significant impact on research and treatment of gambling disorders.
In compulsive gambling, brain chemistry is changed by the activity. This can lead to a chemical high when things go well. Unlike drugs, which have an external source of reward, the high from gambling is generated internally by the brain. In addition, there is a high level of risk involved in gambling. Despite this, many people still find it hard to quit and the consequences of gambling can be devastating.
Working in gambling addiction treatment and prevention, we know that the key features of gambling addiction are: a false sense of control, a desire to replicate early big wins, a misguided belief that future outcomes will be different from previous ones, an escape from boredom or stress, poor coping strategies and mental illness. These factors interact to create a cycle of behaviour that is difficult to break.
A lapse is when you start to gamble again after you have made a conscious decision to stop. It can be very upsetting to relapse, but it is not a sign that you have failed. Many people relapse several times before they are able to beat their addiction. It’s important to get support and try new things in your life to fill the gap that gambling has created.
Speak to a BetterHelp therapist who can help you with a gambling disorder and other mental health problems. Take our free assessment and get matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours. You can also call our helpline on 0800 111 999. We’re here to listen and support you, whatever you need. We won’t share your details with anyone else.