Whether it’s rolling the dice in a twinkly casino or placing a bet on your favourite team, gambling is an activity that involves risking something valuable in exchange for the chance to win. It can be fun and provide a rush when things go your way, but it’s important to remember that gambling is not without risks. For some people, it can become a harmful habit that results in financial harm or personal distress. Problem gambling can also affect family and relationships. Fortunately, help is available.
Gambling occurs in many places, including casinos, racetracks, sports events, and online. In recent years, technological advances have made it easier than ever to access gambling games and betting apps on devices like smartphones, tablets or laptops. This accessibility can be a major contributor to the increase in gambling addiction.
It’s important to recognise the warning signs of gambling problems and seek help if you think you or a loved one has an addiction. Symptoms may include lying to friends or family members about how much you’re spending, hiding evidence of gambling, and spending more time and money on it than planned. Those with an addiction may find it difficult to stop gambling and may even feel the urge rising while they’re playing.
Research has shown that there is a link between addiction and the brain’s reward circuit. A region of the brain called the striatum is activated when people receive monetary rewards. It’s the same area that responds to natural reinforcers, like food and sexual stimuli, as well as drugs of abuse, such as cocaine. The more you gamble, the more reward your brain gets from these activities and the harder it is to control your behaviour.
Some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. There are also differences in how the brain’s reward system works between individuals. Research is ongoing to examine how these factors, combined with psychological and environmental influences, contribute to the development of gambling disorder.
It can be challenging for families to cope with the onset of a gambling addiction, especially when it affects a young person. Families should make an effort to talk about their concerns and support each other. They can also help their loved ones by setting boundaries around money management, such as having someone else be in charge of household finances or closing their online gambling accounts. They can also encourage their loved ones to participate in self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous or seek advice from a counsellor. The first step is recognising that there is a problem, which can be hard for those with an addictive personality to admit. However, it’s important to remember that others have overcome this challenge and rebuild their lives. BetterHelp, an online therapy service that matches you with accredited therapists, has experts who can discuss the signs and symptoms of gambling disorders. Take our free assessment and get matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours.