Gambling involves wagering money or other possessions on chance activities or events with uncertain outcomes. It is often associated with the use of drugs and alcohol, and it can be a source of financial distress. Some people gamble to relieve boredom, while others do it as a social activity or to escape from life’s stresses. For some, gambling becomes a problem when they start to expect frequent early big wins and lose control over their behavior.
Understanding the causes of problem gambling is important because it can help you recognise a loved one when they are struggling. Research suggests that there are biological factors such as a predisposition to reward-seeking behaviour and impulsivity, which can contribute to a person developing an addiction. Other contributing factors may be genetic, or influenced by a person’s culture, such as the values that are ingrained in their family and community.
A person’s brain releases dopamine when they win, and this can trigger the urge to keep playing in order to experience the same feeling again. Often, this is accompanied by thoughts like “I’m due for another win” or “If I only gambled more”. Learning healthier ways to self-soothe unpleasant emotions or relieve boredom, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and trying new hobbies, can help you break the cycle of problematic gambling. In addition, counseling can help you explore how your gambling is affecting your relationships and finances and develop plans for change.