What Is Gambling and How Does It Affect Your Brain?
Gambling is a game in which people stake something of value (like money) on an event with an uncertain outcome. They hope to win something else of value, such as a prize or a jackpot. People gamble in casinos, racetracks, on the Internet and even at home. Gambling can have serious consequences, including addiction and family problems. It’s important to understand how gambling works and the risks involved to protect yourself or someone you know.
Problem gambling can be hard to recognise. It’s common for affected people to hide their addiction from family and friends. They may also lie about how much time and money they’re spending on gambling. Some may even steal to fund their habit.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, seek help. Many organisations offer support, assistance and counselling for those struggling with gambling issues. Some even have dedicated gambling support lines. Those who are at risk of gambling-related harm should consider cutting up credit cards, getting someone else in charge of their finances, having the bank make automatic payments, closing online betting accounts and keeping only a small amount of cash on them.
It’s also important to strengthen your support network and avoid isolation. It’s hard to fight an addiction alone and it can be easy to rationalise a loved one’s requests for “just this one last time.” If you’re worried about someone’s gambling, don’t let them be in denial or blame themselves – get help instead.
Research on gambling has explored a range of possible causes, from the effects of different genetic traits and personality characteristics to environmental factors. However, most of the evidence suggests that gambling behavior involves impulsiveness. Studies have linked impulsiveness with sensation- and novelty-seeking, as well as a desire for arousal. Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking explains how individuals take risks for the potential reward of positive reinforcement. Cloninger’s theory of arousal is related to gambling by suggesting that some people seek excitement, novelty and variety in their activities.
Understanding gambling can be complicated, especially because of its prevalence in society and the many different forms it can take. Whether it’s an activity like lottery tickets, scratchcards or sports bets, each type of gambling affects your brain differently. Some forms of gambling are illegal in some states, but even those that are legal can lead to a gambling disorder if not treated properly. The good news is that there are many treatment options, ranging from self-help groups to inpatient or residential programmes. These are designed to treat those whose gambling is out of control, and are often based on 12-step recovery models adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous.