Gambling involves betting something of value on a random event in the hope of winning a prize. It can be a way to relieve boredom, stress or unpleasant feelings and is often done with friends and family. However, it can have many harmful effects. Some people develop a gambling addiction because they have underlying psychological issues, such as an underactive brain reward system or are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. Other contributing factors include a lack of self-control and difficulty weighing risks and rewards.
Whether or not people gamble, they are exposed to the possibility of becoming rich through chance events such as lottery wins, or when they play casino games. But, when they do lose, they are likely to experience a negative emotional reaction to this loss and will try to win back the money they have lost through further gambling or other means, such as borrowing from friends or relying on illegal activities to source funds (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). This cycle of losing and trying to make up losses leads to compulsive gambling.
This is because of a mental mechanism called ‘partial reinforcement’. People are more sensitive to the negative emotions associated with a loss than they are to gains of equal value. For example, when you lose a £10 note, it hurts more than finding PS10. This is because the mind can produce immediate examples of when the individual has won or lost. This makes them think their chances of winning are greater than they really are.
Another reason that individuals continue to gamble is because they can be influenced by their culture, which can have a significant influence on how people perceive gambling and what constitutes a problem. Some cultures regard gambling as a harmless pastime and so it can be difficult for people to realise that they have a gambling problem.
In addition, some communities view gambling as a positive activity because it can provide employment opportunities and social activities. This is also the case for younger people, who are often encouraged to participate in gambling by their parents and peers. Moreover, some people may consider it as a useful skill for improving their critical thinking skills, decision-making abilities and learning about odds and strategy.
Some people also take part in gambling for coping reasons – such as to forget their worries or because it makes them feel self-confident and more confident. However, these aren’t good reasons to keep gambling and they can lead to long-term problems if not addressed.
When you have a loved one who is struggling with gambling, it’s important to remember that they didn’t choose to become addicted and don’t understand how the game works. Therefore, you should avoid blaming them and help them to find ways of relieving unpleasant feelings in healthier ways such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble and using relaxation techniques. We offer various Safeguarding Training courses that can help you to identify the signs of gambling addiction in your loved ones and support them through their recovery.