Gambling is the act of placing a wager on something of value (such as money, goods or services) where there is an element of chance involved and the outcome of the wager depends on randomness. Whether you’re buying a lottery ticket, betting on the football or the horses or playing the pokies there is an element of risk involved. While gambling is a fun activity for some people it can also lead to serious financial problems and even suicide. For those in the grips of problem gambling, it can damage their relationships, performance at work or study and cause debts that threaten to overwhelm them. It is also estimated that gambling is responsible for around 400 suicides every year in the UK.
Psychiatry has traditionally viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but the growing evidence of its harmful effects has led to a shift in opinion. Today, most psychiatric professionals now regard it as a real and potentially dangerous mental health condition. Unlike most other compulsions, which can be treated with medication or psychotherapy, gambling cannot be cured with therapy, but there are effective medications and interventions that can help to alleviate the symptoms.
Research into the effectiveness of these treatments is ongoing and has shown some promise. A number of psychological techniques have also been used to address problematic gambling, including cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches patients to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviors. These techniques can help to reframe the way in which gamblers think about their behavior and reduce irrational beliefs, such as thinking that a string of losses will eventually turn into a big win or that a close call, such as two out of three cherries on a slot machine, signals an imminent jackpot.
Some behavioural therapies, such as motivational interviewing and thought challenge, can also be useful in helping gamblers to overcome their negative habits. These methods can encourage people to focus on the positive aspects of their gambling, such as socializing and the opportunity to improve their skills. They can also help to identify irrational beliefs that fuel gambling addiction, such as the belief that winning a large amount of money will relieve anxiety and stress.
Many people enjoy gambling and, if it is done in moderation and only with money that can be lost, it can be a fun activity. However, it is important to remember that gambling is an expense and should be accounted for in the same way as other expenses, such as meals out or tickets to a show. If you are a regular gambler and find that your gambling is having a damaging effect on your finances, contact StepChange for free debt advice.