The Risk of Gambling Disorder

Gambling is an activity in which you stake something of value in the hope of winning a prize. It can be done in many places and includes betting on horses or football, online poker, fantasy sports leagues and scratch tickets. It can also include speculating on business investments or stocks.

Problem gambling has been linked to stress, family problems, relationship issues and substance use disorders. It may also be influenced by genetics and differences in brain circuitry that control reward and impulse-control processes. The risk of addiction is increased when you gamble with more money than you can afford to lose. It can also be triggered by the loss of a job, a relationship or a financial setback. People with gambling problems may hide their habit or lie about how much time and money they spend.

Unlike some other addictive behaviours, such as drug and alcohol addiction, the cause of gambling disorder is not fully understood. Research suggests that both psychological and environmental factors contribute to its development, but it is likely that a combination of these causes is involved.

Some people start to have trouble with gambling when their losses exceed their entertainment value, or they begin to feel like a ‘job’. They may start to believe that they are unable to control their behaviour and try to find ways to make it ‘pay off’, which increases the chances of further losses and harms. This cycle can lead to a downward spiral where the only way out is to keep gambling, even if it causes more harms than rewards.

Gambling can trigger the reward pathway in your brain, resulting in a dopamine release every time you win or experience a positive event. This is a normal response to encourage you to continue the behaviour that led to the positive outcome, but it can become problematic when you are no longer enjoying the game or it is no longer making you happy. In addition, if you are chasing your losses, the dopamine release will increase your urge to play and can cause you to lose more money.

In addition, some people may find it difficult to recognise that they are having problems with gambling, because it is considered a common pastime in their culture or social group. This can make it harder to ask for help or seek treatment.

To help reduce the risk of becoming addicted to gambling, you can take action by setting clear boundaries on how much money you are willing to invest in games and keeping a record of your gambling activities. You can also try to get support from friends and family, enlist the help of a professional, and participate in other activities that do not involve chance. You can also contact a national helpline or local referral resources such as certified gambling counselors and intensive treatment programs in your area.