Gambling is a form of entertainment where people wager money or something else of value on a random event. The goal is to win a prize, which can be cash or goods. Some gambling games involve skill, but the vast majority are purely chance. People gamble for a variety of reasons, including social, recreational and financial. For example, some people gamble to make friends or to pass the time, while others do it to try and win big money. Regardless of the reason, gambling can be dangerous and lead to addiction.
Research into gambling has been shaped by different paradigms or world views, reflecting the many perspectives of those involved in its study – including researchers, psychiatrists, other treatment care clinicians and public policy makers. These various perspectives have led to the emergence of distinct theories about why and how gambling can become problematic, which are usually based on a combination of factors. These include erroneous beliefs about the likelihood of winning, mental illness, and cognitive distortions.
The behavioural approach to gambling highlights how environmental cues and Pavlovian learning mechanisms can reinforce the behaviour of gambling (Blaszczynski & Nower 2002). This is argued to be triggered by the physiological arousal associated with gambling, as evidenced by heart rate increases and elevated cortisol levels. This arousal is then reinforced by the anticipation of winning or losing, and the reward received from a successful outcome. This explains why gamblers return to the same game again and again.
In addition, the behavioural approach has also identified how a range of emotional states are predisposed to gambling (Dickerson & O’Connor 2006). These can include depression and anxiety, which may trigger a gambler’s irrational belief that they have a good chance of winning. The cognitive approach, on the other hand, focuses on thought content and a distorted appraisal of control during gambling.
Despite the many factors that can cause gambling problems, it is ultimately the gambler’s responsibility to stop their harmful behaviour. However, if they are not able to do this on their own, seeking help is important. There are a number of options, such as counselling and self-help support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. These options can be helpful, especially if a person has already incurred significant financial losses or has damaged their relationships as a result of the problem gambling. It can be difficult to admit you have a gambling disorder, but it is an important first step in the recovery process. Get matched with a therapist who can help you overcome your addiction and start living a happier, healthier life.