Gambling involves wagering something of value on an event with a random outcome. It can be done in a wide range of ways, from placing a bet on a football team to buying a scratchcard. The odds are calculated by the betting company to determine how much you could win if you were lucky enough to be successful.
While gambling can be fun, it is also risky and many people are unable to control their urges. Compulsive gambling can have a negative impact on relationships, work, education and personal health. It is also linked to depression, anxiety and substance abuse. People who suffer from mental illness are more at risk of harmful gambling, and may hide their activities from family and friends or even lie to them.
The earliest evidence of gambling comes from China, where tiles were found dating back to 2,300 B.C. The first modern gambling houses opened in the 1890s, and are now available online, on television and in casinos. Some people may be at increased risk of developing a gambling disorder because of their genetics, age or a history of psychological trauma. Other factors can include:
In the early stages, people with a gambling disorder often deny that their problem is real or try to justify it by rationalising their actions. They may also try to cover up their behaviour by hiding cash or lying about their gambling habits, or by using alcohol or drugs. If you suspect you have a gambling disorder, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.
Some effective treatments for gambling disorder include psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you to challenge irrational beliefs and thoughts. You may also learn to recognise your triggers, such as a craving or feeling depressed. Some people may benefit from group therapy, where they meet with other people who have a similar condition and share experiences.
Other forms of treatment include inpatient and residential treatment or rehabilitation programs, which are aimed at those with severe gambling addictions who are unable to stop on their own. Some of these programs offer 24-hour support and are located in hospitals, community facilities or private homes.
The best way to prevent a gambling disorder is to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose. Take steps to reduce financial risks, including keeping your credit cards in a safe place, having someone else pay your bills, closing online gambling accounts and carrying only a small amount of cash. Seek professional help if you need to, and find alternative recreational activities or hobbies that can fill the gap left by gambling. Talk to a friend, a trusted family member or a counsellor. It’s also helpful to join a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, or visit the Better Health Channel’s fact sheet ‘Gambling – financial issues’. If your gambling is causing you to be in debt, speak to StepChange for free, confidential debt advice.