Gambling is an activity that involves wagering something of value (usually money) on an event with an uncertain outcome, based on chance or skill rather than on choice. It is a common pastime that can lead to serious problems. It is also a common comorbidity with other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which can be harder to treat than gambling disorder alone.
The main motivations for gambling include socialization and the dream of winning money. People with lower incomes, especially young people and men, are more susceptible to developing gambling disorders because they have more to lose with a large loss and less to gain with a small win. People who are predisposed to gambling disorder may have an underactive reward center in the brain, which affects their ability to control impulses and weigh risk-reward ratios. Other risk factors include personality traits, family history and coexisting mental health disorders.
Problem gamblers experience both negative and positive impacts on themselves, others and society as a whole. Negative impacts include an increased likelihood of gambling-related debt, which can lead to bankruptcy and homelessness. Positive effects on society include revenues from gambling, which can be used for other purposes such as providing public services or promoting tourism. However, most studies only focus on the economic costs of problematic gambling, which are more easily quantifiable than non-economic social costs and benefits.
It is important to learn healthy ways to self-soothe unpleasant feelings, unwind or socialize instead of gambling. These healthy alternatives can be as simple as spending time with friends who don’t gamble, trying a new hobby or practicing relaxation techniques. They can also involve a change in diet and exercise, or learning to deal with stress or underlying mental health issues.
Using gambling as a way to cope with boredom, loneliness or negative emotions isn’t sustainable and can cause long-term harm. It can also negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health, relationships and work performance. It can even affect their family, community and the economy.
If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, seek help. A mental health professional can help you understand the root causes of your gambling behavior and teach you skills to manage it. Treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches you to change your thinking and behavior by challenging unhelpful beliefs and replacing them with more helpful ones. Another option is motivational interviewing, which helps you overcome uncertainty about changing your gambling behavior. Both treatments can be delivered by trained professionals in a safe and supportive environment.