What is Gambling?

Gambling is any activity involving risking money or something else of value on an uncertain outcome, whether it be a sports game, scratchcard, slot machine or betting with friends. It can be done legally or illegally, in casinos or private homes, in bars and restaurants and on the Internet. Gambling can involve skill, but it is primarily a risk-taking activity.

It is estimated that over half of the UK population gambles, and for many of these people gambling is an enjoyable pastime. However, for others it can become a serious problem that affects their physical and mental health, causes financial difficulty, harms relationships, work or study performance and even leads to criminal behaviour. The problem of compulsive gambling is growing and more effective treatment is needed.

A number of organisations offer support, assistance and counselling for individuals who have problems with their gambling. These services can help to control gambling, and for those with a gambling disorder they can assist them in stopping gambling altogether.

People who have gambling disorders can be of any age, gender or social class. They can live in rural or urban areas, be employed or unemployed, be religious or not. Regardless of background, people with a gambling disorder can experience the same difficulties in controlling their problem.

Research shows that compulsive gambling activates the reward system in the brain, just like drugs and alcohol do. This change in the brain chemistry may explain why some people become addicted to gambling, and why they continue to bet despite serious consequences.

Some people start to gamble as a way of relieving unpleasant emotions, such as boredom or loneliness. Others find that it helps to take the edge off a stressful day or after a fight with their partner. However, there are healthier and more effective ways of dealing with these feelings, including exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.

The more a person gambles, the higher their risk of developing a gambling disorder. The symptoms of gambling disorder include a preoccupation with the next bet, repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling, lying to family and friends about their gambling activity and hiding evidence of their gambling. It is also important to note that problem gambling can lead to depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and substance abuse.

If you or someone you know has a gambling addiction, it is essential to get help. Counseling can teach you how to recognise the warning signs of a gambling addiction, and provide you with the tools to overcome this harmful habit. Counseling for gambling addiction often includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you how to change unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, such as rationalizations or false beliefs, and can teach you to cope with gambling urges. It can also address any underlying conditions that are contributing to your gambling, such as depression or a mental health disorder, and may also include family, marriage, career and credit counseling.