It’s probably fair to say that, like most people, you enjoy the occasional flutter, even if it’s only a lottery ticket or a bet on a major horse race once in a while. Simply put, gambling gives you a thrill. For the majority of people, that’s where it ends but for some that thrill becomes addictive and they feel an irresistible compulsion to gamble more and more.
What causes gambling addiction?
Not everyone who likes a bet becomes a gambling addict. But what factors contribute to the risk of gambling taking over your life?Here are a few of the common reasons that people become addicted:
- Stress – a common factor in many addictions, stress is also a major factor in gambling addiction. If you have emotional problems caused by relationship difficulties or the loss of a loved one, or else if you are under stress at work or are facing financial worries, then gambling often provides temporary relief. But, in the long term, it usually only adds to the stress, as you lose money and try to cope with the shame of your addiction, so creating a vicious cycle.
- Filling a void – in many cases, people use gambling as a way of passing time and a chance to be in the company of others. This is often the situation with the elderly who feel lonely (particularly if they have lost their spouse and their children are not close) and have plenty of time on their hands.
- The thrill – there can be no doubt that gambling is thrilling. Some people become addicted to the adrenalin rush that gambling gives and allow it to take over their lives, despite the consequences – damage to relationships, loss of money and so on.
- Convenience – these days gambling is so convenient and easy that if you are slightly at risk it is very difficult to resist the temptation. Betting shops are commonplace, there are slot machines everywhere and we are always being urged to buy tickets for this or that lottery with the lure of huge payouts. The elderly are encouraged to take part in bingo as a fun and social activity and even youngsters are given the impression that gambling is fine as they sell raffle tickets for school fund raising events. And then there is the Internet. Internet gambling is on the rise – it can be done in the privacy of your own home and some sites will even offer a free initial stake to get you started.
- Depression and alcohol – it is estimated that gambling addicts are twice as likely as others to suffer from depression and that nearly half of gambling addicts also have an alcohol problem.
- The brain – researchers have found a chemical aspect to gambling addiction that relates to how the brain responds to pleasure. When the body undergoes a pleasurable experience – including winning a bet – the brain releases a chemical known as dopamine that makes us want to experience the pleasure again. In some people, the brain has to release more dopamine to give the pleasurable sensation, which can increase the risk of addictive behaviour.
It’s not always easy to identify if someone is a gambling addict, as sufferers tend to be secretive and will generally deny the extent of their gambling. But if an individual is spending time alone, is getting into debt for no apparent reason or frequently wants to borrow money, or is becoming absorbed by gambling activities to the detriment of their normal responsibilities and the exclusion of friends and family, then it is possible that they have succumbed to the gambling bug.
Gambling addicts can, of course, be helped. Treatment, which usually comprises cognitive behavioural therapy, is very effective and should be started as early as possible so that the adverse consequences of the addiction can be minimised.