The Dangers of Gambling


Whether you’re in a twinkly casino, a glitzy sports bar or a dimly lit pub, gambling is about risking something of value to predict the outcome of an event that depends on chance. If you’re right, you win money. If you’re wrong, you lose the money you gambled. And, for many people, gambling can be very addictive.

For example, when you spin a roulette wheel or pull the handle on a slot machine, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. This chemical response can overstimulate your reward system, causing you to want to gamble more to get the same pleasure. Moreover, research shows that gambling activates the brain’s reward circuit in ways that may trigger a person to feel that they are getting a “rush” even when they are not winning.

A psychiatric disorder called pathological gambling can lead to severe problems such as debt, unemployment and even suicide. The condition often runs in families, and it can start as early as adolescence. It can also be triggered by trauma or social inequality, particularly for women. It can be hard to recognize and treat.

Problematic gambling is more common than many people realize. It affects men and women of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. It is most prevalent in the United States, where it causes over $70 billion a year in lost income and costs society $12 billion to treat. It’s also a growing problem in Canada, where call volume to gambling addiction hotlines has increased.

There are both regulated and unregulated forms of gambling, including lotteries, casinos, online gambling, and betting with friends. The regulated forms of gambling are government-controlled and operate under strict rules. In contrast, the unregulated forms of gambling include card games and skill-based sports like dice and bingo among teenagers, and bets on sporting events such as football or horse races by adults and children.

Gambling is also used for a variety of reasons, from socialization to coping with stress and depression. The media promotes gambling as fun, sexy and glamorous, and it can provide an escape from the realities of life. Many people who have a problem with gambling may not admit it, but they may be using the activity to cope with problems such as grief, anxiety or financial hardship.

Behavioral therapy can help people who have gambling disorders break the habit and rebuild their lives. Therapists can teach patients to recognize their cravings and use techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing to encourage them to resist them. They can also teach them to confront irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a string of losses means they’re due for a big win. In addition, family therapy and marriage, career and credit counseling can be helpful for resolving issues that have caused the gambling behavior. Finally, medication is sometimes used to treat co-occurring disorders and help with withdrawal symptoms.