The Dangers of Gambling


While some people can easily walk away from a game of poker or a spin on the slots, others become addicted. It is thought that there are a number of factors at play, including an early big win, boredom susceptibility, impulsivity and a poor understanding of random events. Combined with escape coping and depression, these can lead to a vicious cycle of gambling that provides short term relief but contributes to greater stress in the long term.

Gambling involves placing something of value on a random event in the hope of winning something else of value. It can be done for money or non-monetary items, such as goods and services. In general, the more risk involved, the higher the expected value.

When a gambler first wins, it triggers the brain’s reward system and gives them a natural high. This can trigger a desire to experience the same feeling again, causing them to continue to gamble. However, over time the brain’s reward system can be changed by repeated stimulation and a person may find that they need to gamble more to get the same pleasure.

Another factor that can increase the chance of addiction is a bias known as “recency bias.” This happens when a person overestimates their chances of winning due to past experiences. This could be because they see people around them winning the lottery or betting on sports, or because they have had a string of wins themselves.

It is also thought that people who gamble are more likely to develop a mental health issue like depression, because they are constantly seeking out thrills and rewards. People who have an uncontrolled gambling habit are unable to stop themselves from taking risks, even when they know they are at a higher risk of losing than they are of winning. This can result in them putting themselves at risk of developing financial problems, which can then lead to more gambling.

Finally, it is believed that many people who engage in problem gambling do so because they need to meet basic human needs. These might include a need for status and specialness, which casinos promote by portraying their facilities as glamorous and exciting. People who engage in problem gambling often have a lack of support and rely on the illusion of control to cope with other problems, such as grief, loss, depression or boredom.

While a lot has been written about the harms of gambling, little attention has been paid to the positive social impacts of it. This is partly because most of the benefits are not monetary and so cannot be easily measured. It is also difficult to assess the impact on an individual, particularly if they are a family member of someone who has a gambling problem. The good news is that we are now starting to understand that problem gambling is a mental health disorder, just as alcoholics were once thought to be. This change in understanding is reflected in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Our Safeguarding Courses cover everything from Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults to Mental Health Awareness.