Mental Health and Gambling


Gambling is an activity where participants place a wager on the outcome of a random event. The goal is to win something of value (a prize, money or services). People gamble for a number of reasons: to get an adrenaline rush, to socialize and to escape from stress and worries. For some people, gambling can become addictive and they may experience problems with their mental health. If you’re worried about your gambling habits, it’s important to seek help. There are many options available, including treatment and self-help tips.

The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to 2,300 B.C, when tiles were found that appeared to be used for a rudimentary game of chance. It’s thought that this game was a type of lottery. Today, most people gamble by buying tickets for a lottery or betting on sports events, like football matches, horse races and other popular games. The total amount of money wagered annually is estimated to be around $10 trillion, with organized lotteries and football pools the largest forms of legal gambling worldwide.

Some people develop a problem with gambling, often because it interferes with their daily lives and relationships. This is called pathological gambling (PG). PG is characterized by persistent, recurrent, maladaptive patterns of behavior and is usually recognized in adolescence or early adulthood. It affects men and women equally and can lead to serious consequences, such as bankruptcy and homelessness.

For some people, a small number of losses can trigger a relapse. When this happens, a person may feel that they are no longer able to control their gambling behavior and will try to make up for the losses. They may also begin to rely on family members or friends to fund their gambling activities. Some people will even lie to others about their gambling habits or spend money they haven’t earned.

Physiologically, when you bet, your brain releases dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and reward. The release of this chemical is similar to that caused by healthy behaviors, such as spending time with a loved one or eating a nutritious meal. However, for some people, the release of dopamine is too much and can trigger an addiction to gambling.

In a health approach to gambling, it’s important that impacts are considered at both the personal and societal/community levels. Personal and interpersonal impacts are invisible to the gambler and include costs that don’t appear in financial accounts, such as emotional distress, debt, loss of social support and reduced well-being. Similarly, societal/community impacts are hidden or not included in economic costing studies.

It takes strength and courage to admit that you have a gambling problem, especially if it’s causing you to lose money or strain your relationships. But don’t give up: help is available. Use our free service to be matched with a professional, licensed and vetted therapist in as little as 48 hours. You can also visit our Self-help page for more information and helpful hints on how to beat gambling addiction.