Gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value, such as money or possessions, on an event whose outcome is determined by chance. It can take many forms, such as betting on sports, games, or other events. It can also involve buying scratchcards. Gambling can be enjoyable in moderation, but if it becomes an addiction it can damage a person’s self-esteem, relationships, health, work performance and social life. It can even lead to criminal activities. The video below by Brain Connections explores how gambling can spiral from an enjoyable pastime into an addictive habit that is hard to break.
Research has shown that there are biological, psychological and social factors that can cause someone to become a problem gambler. For example, some people may be genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. In addition, they may have a less active reward system in their brain, making it harder for them to process rewards and control their impulses. Moreover, there is evidence that some gambling activities trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, which is similar to the effect of taking drugs. This can trigger the same escalating cycle as drug addiction, with more and more gambling being done in an attempt to ‘feel good’.
Another factor that can influence gambling behaviour is the environment and community in which a person lives. This can be influenced by the number of nearby casinos, the types of gambling available and the way in which it is regulated. There is also evidence that some communities view gambling as a normal pastime and this can make it difficult for people to recognise when their gambling has become a problem.
Longitudinal studies are important for understanding the onset, development and maintenance of pathological gambling. These studies follow a group of people over time, allowing them to be compared to other members of their cohort at different points in their lives. These types of studies are challenging to undertake, as they can be costly and time consuming. However, they are becoming increasingly common in gambling research and are proving to be useful for identifying key factors that predict problem gambling behaviour.
It is important to understand that people who have a gambling disorder do not choose to develop it. It is a complex condition that requires professional help. If you suspect that someone you know is developing a gambling problem, it is important to be patient and supportive. This can help to avoid becoming angry or critical, which can be counter-productive. You should also try to find out what is driving their behaviour, for example, if they are trying to overcome a negative feeling or as a form of escapism. It is also helpful to remember that some people start to hide their gambling, so it can be difficult to know when it has become a problem. Often, people who are hiding their gambling are lying to family and friends about the extent of their involvement.