Whether it’s buying lotto tickets, placing bets on horse races, football accumulators or using the pokies, many people gamble at some point. For some it can be enjoyable and lead to a good time, but for others it can harm their mental health, relationships, performance at work or study and leave them in serious debt. It’s important to understand how gambling works so you can take steps to reduce the risk of harm.
In a recent study, scientists showed that gambling products use the same principles as addictive drugs to keep people hooked. This is because, just like a drug addiction, gambling results in a reward system where the player overestimates the relationship between their input and some uncontrollable outcome.
The game’s designers also optimise the reward ratio to keep players playing. For example, slot machines are usually near cash registers so they’re within reach when a player has spare change (or in the case of pre-2010s, a stack of coins). They’re also optimized to grant small losses and big wins in equal measure to keep the average player’s bankroll in balance. This same strategy is used by a number of online games, and it’s one reason why you should never gamble with money that needs to be saved for bills or rent.
Some people with a gambling problem may have mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, which can both trigger gambling and make it harder to quit. Getting help for these conditions can prevent them from escalating and lead to better health, relationships and financial well-being.
Those with severe gambling problems may benefit from professional treatment and rehabilitation programs. These involve staying in a clinic or rehab facility and getting round-the-clock support. They include family therapy and marriage, career and credit counseling and can help you rebuild your life without gambling.
It’s also important to be aware that gambling is not a way to make money. It should be treated as an entertainment expense, just like going to the movies or eating out. The venue, whether it’s a casino or your home PC, is designed to take your money and not give you any back. It’s also important to never chase your losses and stop gambling if you’re losing. Trying to recoup your losses will only result in bigger losses in the long run and is known as the gambler’s fallacy.
The best advice is to avoid gambling altogether, but if you have to, only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and set a time limit for yourself. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan, such as visiting friends or going to the cinema, in case your gambling urges are too strong. You should also try to focus on positive activities and surround yourself with supportive people. It’s also worth considering debt help, as gambling can be an expensive hobby that can get you into financial difficulty. Talk to a debt adviser at StepChange for free, confidential debt advice.