Whether it’s buying lottery tickets, betting on football matches or playing the pokies, most people gamble at some point. Most do it without any problems, but for some the gambling can become addictive and they develop a gambling disorder. This is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a pattern of gambling behavior that causes significant distress or impairment.
A lot of people gamble for social reasons – they do it with friends, or because it makes a meal out of an event more enjoyable. Other reasons include the desire to win money or other prizes, to escape from everyday life and to feel a rush or high. But, whatever the reason, it is important to understand why gambling can lead to problems and how you can seek help.
There are four main types of gambling: raffles, bingo, lottery and sports bets. The lottery is the most popular form of legalised gambling in the world and is available in most countries, while horse racing and sports bets are common in some.
The amount of money that is legally wagered on these activities is estimated to be around $10 trillion a year worldwide. Compulsive gambling can be more likely to occur in younger or middle-aged people, but it can affect anyone. People with a mood disorder like depression, anxiety or substance misuse may be at greater risk of developing gambling problems.
A family member or close friend might encourage a person to gamble by saying they’ve got a good chance of winning, and it can be hard for someone with a gambling disorder to resist the temptation. If you know someone who is struggling with a gambling problem, try to talk to them and offer support. You could also consider seeking professional help for yourself or them, including cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also self-help groups for families, such as Gam-Anon.
There’s a strong link between gambling and suicide, so if you’re thinking of taking your own life, please call 999 or visit A&E immediately. Gambling can also cause financial harm, so it’s a good idea to speak to StepChange for free debt advice.
Many people can overcome their gambling addictions by changing their behaviour or attending a treatment programme, but some need more help. This can range from family and individual therapy to inpatient or residential treatments, where patients are given round-the-clock support. People who have a family history of gambling problems are at higher risk of developing compulsive gambling, and it is also more common in men than women. It’s also more common to start gambling in adolescence or early adulthood, but it can happen at any age. These factors can make the recovery process more difficult. But it is possible to recover from gambling disorder, even if you’ve lost everything. Read more about addiction recovery here.