Gambling Addiction


Gambling involves risking something of value (money, property or personal possessions) on a random event with the intent to win something else of value. Examples of gambling include playing cards, horse races, lottery tickets, video poker and sports betting. While the majority of gamblers don’t experience problems, some people develop a problem and may become addicted. People who become addicted to gambling can experience negative effects such as family and employment issues, financial difficulties, debts, depression and homelessness.

The development of a gambling addiction is complex and can be difficult to recognise in yourself or in someone else. It is important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms, such as lying about how much money you’re spending or hiding evidence of your gambling habits. It’s also helpful to understand the impact of gambling on your physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends, work or studies. Problem gambling can cause significant harm to individuals and families, including homelessness, debt and suicide.

There is no one type of gambling that is more addictive than others. All forms of gambling can be problematic, whether it’s playing card games with friends for small amounts, taking part in a friendly sports bet or buying lottery tickets. There are a number of factors that increase the chance of developing an addiction, such as genetic predispositions and the way the brain processes rewards and losses.

People who are predisposed to gambling addiction tend to have a lower activation of the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making and inhibits impulsive behaviours. They are also more likely to be influenced by the environment around them, and this can include their culture and social values. For example, in some cultures, gambling is a normal pastime and it can be hard to recognise that you might have a problem.

The reward system of the brain responds to the excitement and pleasure of winning and the fear of losing. This is why it’s so difficult for some people to stop gambling, despite the harm it causes to their lives and those of those close to them. People can also fall into a cycle of addiction where they lose track of how much they are spending and end up using gambling as an escape from boredom or stress.

It is also easier to maintain a pattern of gambling when the chances of winning are high, so early big wins can encourage more gambling. Near misses and losses can also provide reinforcement, such as when two identical fruits appear on a slot machine (which is called ‘near-misses’). People are more sensitive to their losses than they are to their gains of the same amount, so it’s easy for them to keep investing time and money in hopes of making up their losses. They can even begin to believe that they are able to control their luck, for instance by throwing the dice a certain way or wearing a lucky item of clothing.