Gambling Addiction


Gambling is an activity in which people stake something of value on a random event with the prospect of winning a prize. It can occur in a variety of settings, from casinos to gas stations and church halls. It is often associated with money, but can also involve anything of value including marbles or collectable game pieces. In the past, pathological gambling was viewed as a compulsion similar to substance addiction; it is now recognised that there are many psychological and genetic factors that can lead to problem gambling.

While the risk of losing is high, many people enjoy gambling. It can be a form of entertainment and provides an adrenaline rush, much like alcohol or drugs. Some individuals even claim that they cannot live without gambling and can develop a problem if they gamble excessively. Despite the high risk, it is not uncommon for people to become addicted to the game of chance, as they have a natural desire to try and make up for previous losses. In the US and UK, this can have significant ramifications for their health and wellbeing as well as their family, friends and employers.

Problem gambling has been referred to as a “hidden addiction”, as it is not always evident by those who engage in the activity, but by those closest to them. The impact of problem gambling can be felt at personal, interpersonal and community/society levels (see Fig 1). Personal impacts can be direct for the gambler or indirectly via the effects of a gambling disorder on their families and friends, while indirect impacts are largely due to economic issues such as increased costs to businesses involved in the gaming industry.

Psychiatrically, the problem with gambling is considered an impulse control disorder (ICD 10). As a result of the low probability of winning and the high emotional intensity of losing, it triggers a dopamine response in the brain that creates a ‘high’ feeling. This reaction is similar to the one created by ingesting cocaine or other psychoactive substances, and is why problem gambling can cause such severe problems in an individual’s life.

Many people can become addicted to gambling by engaging in activities that are not strictly gambling but may be perceived as such, for example betting on sports events or purchasing insurance. In fact, the process of determining insurance premiums by using actuarial methods can be seen as very similar to gambling. In addition, humans want to feel in control and can fool themselves into believing that they have some degree of control over the outcome of a gamble by doing things such as throwing dice in a certain way or wearing a lucky item of clothing. However, the truth is that the odds are always stacked against the gambler. This is why it is important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself from the dangers of gambling.

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