Whether you’re buying a lottery ticket, placing bets on sporting events or playing the pokies, gambling is risking something of value in the hope of winning more than you have invested. While it can be an enjoyable pastime and even a profitable hobby, gambling has also been linked to mental health problems such as depression and suicidal thoughts.
The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to around 2,300 B.C, when tiles were discovered that appeared to be a rudimentary version of a game of chance. Since then, it’s become an industry worth billions of dollars. Gambling can take many forms, from the lights and noise of a casino to the flashing screens of a smartphone app. However, the psychological reward that comes from gambling is not just about winning and losing – repeated exposure to gambling triggers changes in brain areas that are similar to those activated when taking drugs of abuse.
These changes can make it difficult to stop gambling, even when it’s causing harm. Problem gamblers may feel a strong urge to gamble, particularly if they’ve lost money, and will often return to try to get even (“chasing their losses”). Some people will lie to friends, family, or therapists in order to conceal their involvement with gambling. Others will even jeopardize their career or education to finance their habit.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling addiction, there are steps you can take to help them recover. For example, it can be helpful to strengthen your support network by spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or by trying new activities such as exercise or socialising in other ways.