Gambling involves placing a bet on something of value – money, property or possessions – in which the outcome is determined by chance. It is a form of risk-taking, which can lead to addiction and other negative impacts on individuals and society as a whole. Despite this, there are also positive aspects to gambling that can contribute to socialization and mental development in healthy ways.
Whether it is betting on the football team to win, playing a scratchcard or using the pokies, everyone has gambled at some point in their life. The decision to gamble is usually based on the likelihood of winning, which is calculated by the odds. These odds are set by the betting company and can be found on the ticket or online. The odds are based on previous results and the likelihood of a certain event happening again, as well as other factors such as the time of year or weather conditions.
Many people who gamble do not consider themselves to be problem gamblers and often do not realize that they are at risk of developing a gambling disorder. It is thought that a small percentage of North Americans meet the criteria for pathological gambling (PG) – the fifth edition of Gabbard’s Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders defines PG as ‘a maladaptive pattern of gambling behavior that has persisted over time despite adverse physical, psychological and social consequences.’
The reason that gambling is attractive to some people is likely due to its element of uncertainty. The brain releases dopamine – the feel-good neurotransmitter that is released during enjoyable activities such as eating, sex and drugs – in response to situations where the reward is uncertain. The release of dopamine may help explain why gamblers are enticed by the excitement that surrounds the potential for winning.
Gambling can have negative impacts on the economy, particularly in recreational/amusement industries, and on retail businesses, such as restaurants and shops. It can also have a direct impact on the health of gamblers and their significant others, who may experience stress from the financial burden of gambling-related debt or the effects of a loved one’s problem gambling. The negative impacts of gambling are difficult to measure and have only been partially studied, especially at the interpersonal and community/society level.
If you feel like your gambling is getting out of hand, it is important to understand the risks and take action. Try to limit your gambling to what you can afford to lose and don’t use money that is allocated for other expenses, such as phone bills or rent payments. It is also helpful to find healthier and more effective ways of relieving boredom or unpleasant feelings, such as exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. You can also seek professional help, such as psychotherapy, which can teach you to manage your thoughts and emotions in a healthier way.