Gambling involves risking something of value on an event whose outcome is unpredictable and has a random component. This is a common activity in many cultures, and it can be found in different forms: casino gambling, betting on horse and greyhound races, football accumulators, lottery games and scratch cards. Traditionally, it has been seen as a recreational activity with potential financial benefits. However, it can also have negative effects on health and relationships and can lead to addiction.
It is important to recognise a problem with gambling and seek help. However, many people are unable to admit they have a gambling problem, even when it impacts their life negatively. This can be due to cultural influences and the distorted perception of what is acceptable behaviour. Biological factors, such as an underactive brain reward system and genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity, can also influence how individuals process rewards, control impulses and weigh risk.
In addition, gambling can be addictive and cause harm to people who do not have the right support structures in place. This includes family, friends and other professionals who can support a gambler to overcome their problems. Other social barriers include poor relationships, work or study performance, and debt. It can also have a significant effect on the community, as it reduces social cohesion and increases social deprivation.
Research has largely focused on the economic costs and benefits of gambling, but less attention has been paid to the personal, interpersonal and societal/community level impacts. These impacts can be invisible at the individual level, where gamblers may hide or deny their involvement in gambling and its impact on their lives; or become visible at the interpersonal and society/community levels where they may hurt or exploit others in order to continue to gamble.
These impacts can range from the indirect, such as increased debt and financial strain for those close to the gambler (i.e. family members, friends and other professionals), to the direct, where the gambler’s gambling causes a negative impact on their quality of life, such as jeopardizing their employment or education opportunities or worsening their financial position. The latter can even result in bankruptcy and homelessness.
It is important to set limits on how much you spend and how long you will gamble for. You should never gamble with money that you could not afford to lose. Don’t drink too many free cocktails and beware the “gambler’s fallacy,” which is thinking that you are about to get lucky again and recoup your losses. Lastly, be aware of your mental health and if you start to experience any symptoms of depression or anxiety, stop gambling immediately. If you need help, try a support group for gamblers such as Gamblers Anonymous or seek professional treatment. Alternatively, try volunteering for a good cause or finding new social activities, such as joining a book club, sports team or gym, or enrolling in an education class. You can also join a peer-support group or find a sponsor, a former gambler who has successfully recovered from gambling issues.