Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, placing a bet on the horses or pokies, or even just putting some money in a slot machine, gambling involves risking something of value for a chance to win a prize. For many people, this is harmless fun, but for some it’s a serious problem that can cause harm, often to their physical and mental health. Compulsive gambling – also known as gambling disorder – can lead to unmanageable debt, hiding spending habits and even theft or fraud. It can be a solitary and isolating experience, and can trigger thoughts of suicide in some people.
While the lure of a jackpot is certainly part of the appeal, gamblers are often motivated by other factors, such as self-esteem or the desire to relieve boredom and depression. Some people may find relief through drugs or alcohol, but for others the urge to gamble is so strong that they can’t resist it. Gambling isn’t only done in casinos and racetracks, but can be found at supermarkets, petrol stations, church halls, online and through social media platforms. It’s important to understand how gambling works so that you can better protect yourself against harmful behaviour.
There are a number of things you can do to help stop gambling becoming a problem, including finding healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and socialise. Try exercising, seeking out new friends who don’t gamble or joining a community group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses peer support to help people overcome addiction. It’s also a good idea to reduce the financial risk factors that can contribute to gambling problems, such as using credit cards, taking out loans or carrying large amounts of cash, and avoid gambling venues as places to socialise. Set a limit on how much money you’re willing to spend and stick to it. Try to budget your gambling as an expense and never consider it a way to make money.
Gambling addiction can be treated in the same way as other forms of addiction, and a therapist will often use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). People with gambling disorders often think differently about betting, believing they are more likely to win than they really are, or that certain rituals can bring them luck. CBT can help to change these beliefs, as well as teaching people healthy coping mechanisms.
The first step is admitting that you have a gambling problem, which can be difficult for those who have lost a lot of money and seen their relationships suffer because of it. It’s also important to seek help from family and friends, and to look at other options for support, such as a self-help programme like Gamblers Anonymous or a support group for families such as Gam-Anon.
If you’re struggling with gambling, it’s vital to speak to a therapist as soon as possible. You can do this through Better Health Channel, where we can match you with a qualified and vetted therapist in just 48 hours.