Gambling is a common activity where people place something of value at risk in the hope of gaining more. This includes scratchcards, betting with friends, and more regulated forms of gambling such as sports betting or online poker. The first step in gambling is to choose a game or event that you want to bet on – it could be the result of a football match, or the outcome of a lottery-style game. This choice is then matched to ‘odds’, which are the chances of winning a particular outcome, and determine how much money you can potentially win.
While the majority of gamblers play for fun and only occasionally, some are prone to compulsive gambling which is more serious. This requires a different type of treatment, often involving family therapy.
Several factors can lead to gambling disorders, including genetics and social inequality, especially for women. Problem gambling can start in adolescence or even later, and symptoms range from subclinical to behaviors that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) criteria for pathological gambling (PG).
When you bet on a game of chance, your brain releases dopamine, which is similar to the rush produced by drugs. Over time, this can lead to changes in reward pathways in your brain which can affect your ability to control your behavior.
Another factor in gambling addiction is a distorted sense of reality, often referred to as the “illusion of control.” This happens when you overestimate the relationship between your actions and some uncontrollable outcome. It can also occur when you have an overly positive view of your own skills, leading to a false impression that you’re better than the odds, and making it harder to stop gambling.
A third aspect is an aversion to losing. This can be caused by a number of things, such as feeling embarrassed or ashamed about the amount of money you have lost, or a desire to ‘make it back’ through another wager. This can lead to chasing losses, which is almost always a recipe for disaster.
Gambling can be a fun pastime when it’s done responsibly, and only with the money you can afford to lose. It’s important to set limits in advance, and to avoid using money that you’ll need for essentials like your phone bill or rent. It’s also a good idea to keep track of your wins and losses, as this will help you recognize when your gambling has become problematic. It’s also helpful to seek out support, whether it’s from a doctor or therapist. In some cases, residential or inpatient treatment and rehab programs may be needed for more severe addictions. You can find a therapist who specializes in gambling addictions at a site like RehabNearMe, which provides a list of local options. This will give you a greater chance of finding an option that works for you, and can help you recover from your gambling disorder.