Gambling is a behaviour that takes place in many forms for a whole variety of reasons including:
  • the excitement and the high adrenaline release
  • the competitive element
  • social report
  • the thrill of risk taking
  • a way of escaping from stress or worries.

Managing gambling

  • Keep away from high risk forms of gambling where you can lose large sums of money very quickly.
  • Limit the amount of time you gamble.
  • Limit the amount you spend to the amount you can afford to lose.
  • Quit while you are ahead.

When gambling becomes a problem

Gambling becomes a problem when it becomes a way of life. This is where it becomes an addiction that can destroy lives.
You may be a compulsive gambler if:
  • you spend more money on gambling then you can afford.
  • you get into serious debt. Leading to loss of possessions and potentially your home.
  • your gambling behaviour leads to neglect in important areas of your life like your family or work.
  • your mood may be dictated by winning or losing. You may feel that you are only really content when you gamble and that other areas of life have lost their interest for you.
  • it leads you to inappropriate or even criminal behaviour. You may even steal to fund your gambling habit.

Questions to ask yourself

If you think you may have a gambling problem, ask yourself:
  • is gambling causing me distress?
  • is gambling affecting my sleep or concentration?
  • am I lying to other people and myself about how much I gamble?
  • am I gambling to get away from problems or worries?
  • am I gambling to get money so that I can pay off debts or solve financial problems?
  • am I borrowing money or selling possessions so that I can gamble?
  • do I find it difficult to stop when I have gambled?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may have a gambling problem.

What causes compulsive gambling?

All compulsive behaviours have a variety of social, psychological and biological factors. Gambling brings us contact with others either virtually when using internet gaming rooms or in real life in the casino. This can provide a sense of community however damaging the associated behaviours. Social meaning and acceptance by others are important to us all and for the compulsive gambler these are found when engaging in the activity.
Gambling also changes how we feel psychologically as well as socially. It allows us to escape our normal lives and the everyday problems we experience. During a period of gambling our mind is occupied by the odds, the bet, the race, the actions of other gamers, the run of the cards and so on. It can be all consuming and therefore provides an engaging, exciting escape from ordinary life.
Socially our behaviour may be reinforced by others watching our risk taking behaviour. It may be that we attract a crowd in the casino and impress others when playing poker or roulette, or get positive feedback from others online.
At the biological level compulsive behaviours can have a direct effect on the brain’s dopamine reward system. This system regulates our responses to natural rewards like food, sex and social interaction. Repeated compulsive behaviours can act on this system with a power and persistence that changes its cells chemically and structurally. This in turn can have an overwhelming effect on our wellbeing. People may no longer respond normally to rewards such as food, sex and social interaction, and instead depend on gambling for their sense of reward.
Compulsive gambling can therefore develop through the social meaning and psychological relief that it offers. This is further compounded by the chemical changes in our brain that accompany these experiences. It is in fact artificial to separate these factors since they all occur simultaneously for the compulsive gambler. Social meaning, psychological relief and a fired dopamine reward system can be a difficult combination of experiences for the most hardy of individuals to resist.

Helping yourself

If you feel that you have lost control of your gambling, there are some things you can do to help yourself.
  • admitting you have a problem is the first and most important step.
  • find someone you can trust to talk to about your problem this may be a friend, a relative or professional.
  • avoid situations where gambling is available.
  • take control of how you spend your money so that you don’t waste it on gambling.
  • if you can not do this by yourself get help some.
  • take one day at a time.
  • do not expect everything to improve straight away.

Living with someone who gambles

Living with someone who gambles can be just as difficult as living with someone with any other kind of addiction. It can be very stressful and it can lead to the breakdown of your relationship.
If you are not sure whether you are living with someone who has a gambling problem ask yourself:
  • do they promise time and time again to stop gambling but carry on anyway?
  • do they disappear for long periods of time without telling you where they were?
  • do they spend large sums of money without being able to account for it?
  • do they lie to cover up or deny their gambling?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then they may have a gambling problem.

How to help someone who gambles

It is important to remember you are not the only person in this situation and there are lots of people who can help.
  • talk it through with the other person and, if necessary, get professional help
  • be firm and constructive. Face the problem but also has some ideas of how to move things forward.
  • do not just tell them to ‘get a grip’ and may actually make the situation worse.
  • be realistic compulsive gambling is an addiction, so it will take them time to overcome it. Recovery has it’s ups and downs
  • trusting a person who lives with addiction with money may be not possible until the person has overcome the addiction.