Gambling is when you risk money or something of value on a game of chance, such as scratchcards, fruit machines or betting with friends. You hope to win and gain pleasure from the action but the outcome is uncertain. The brain responds to the anticipation of winning by releasing a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel good. This is why people keep gambling, even when they are putting themselves in financial danger or harming their relationships with family and friends.
When the behavioural response to dopamine is hijacked, you lose control of your behaviour and it becomes compulsive. The underlying causes can include personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions like anxiety or depression. People with these issues are more at risk of developing a gambling problem.
Problem gambling is a complex issue that needs to be addressed with help from experts. It can affect anyone and is often triggered by a personal crisis or a financial emergency. If you are worried about your own or a loved one’s gambling, speak with a specialist or find support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. You should also consider getting treatment for any underlying mood disorders that may be contributing to the problem. It is important to talk about it with somebody who won’t judge you. It is also a good idea to reduce risk factors, for example by cutting down on credit card spending or taking out loans. It is also helpful to find an alternative activity such as a hobby or socialising with friends who don’t gamble.