Gambling involves wagering something of value, such as money or goods, on unpredictable outcomes. People gamble for a variety of reasons: they may be looking for an adrenaline rush, socialising, or to escape their worries and stress. However, gambling can become problematic when it is used to meet needs that should be addressed through other means. If you feel that your gambling is causing harm, please seek help from one of the many organisations that offer support, advice and counselling for those affected by problem gambling.
People gamble in a range of places, including casinos and racetracks, but it also happens at home on the internet, on television and at other social events such as parties or sports matches. Some people are more at risk of gambling problems than others. For example, people with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety are more likely to be affected by gambling problems. People who are in debt or struggling with financial difficulties may also be more at risk of harmful gambling. It is estimated that one problem gambler can affect at least seven other family members, friends or co-workers.
Gambling is often linked to criminal activity and can contribute to higher levels of violent crime and driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It can also lead to increased costs for the police, courts and prisons. Pathological gambling has been associated with an increased risk of suicide, which is why it is important to seek support if you are worried about your own or someone else’s mental health.
A common feature of gambling is the feeling of euphoria or ‘high’ that is felt when the outcome of a bet is favourable. This ‘feel good’ response is a natural human mechanism, designed to encourage us to learn from our successes and try to replicate them in the future. When this reaction occurs, the brain releases dopamine, which helps to reinforce positive behaviours. Unfortunately, when the brain is exposed to a disproportionate amount of rewarding stimuli (such as the feeling of winning), it can begin to hijack this natural learning process and cause compulsive gambling.
Gambling can be an addictive and complex behaviour to overcome, which is why it is so important to seek help if you or someone you know is suffering from gambling problems. If you’re worried that your gambling is out of control, reach out to a trusted friend for support or consider joining a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. You could also try to increase your social interactions by joining a sports club, book club or taking up a new hobby that doesn’t involve gambling. For further help and support, you can also visit a local charity or speak to StepChange for free debt advice. They can help you find the best solution for your situation, whether that’s debt management or insolvency. For more information, see the Gambling section of our factsheets page. Alternatively, you can contact GambleAware or the National Council for Problem Gambling on 0800 169 8811.