Mental Health and Gambling

Mental Health and Gambling


Gambling is an activity where you risk something of value to predict the outcome of a game of chance, like a football match or scratchcard. It can be fun and exciting but it is important to know your limits. If you are concerned about your own gambling habits or the behaviour of someone close to you, it is advisable to seek help and advice.

People gamble for a variety of reasons, from the thrill of winning to socialising or escaping from worries and stress. But it can become a serious problem when your betting goes out of control. People with mental health problems are particularly at risk of harmful gambling. There is also a link between gambling and suicide and if you have thoughts of harming yourself, call 999 or visit A&E immediately.

Research shows that if you have depression or anxiety, there is a higher likelihood of having gambling problems. In addition, there are links between gambling and debt and you can get free, confidential debt advice from StepChange. Other risk factors include low incomes and young people, with boys and men being more likely to develop gambling disorder than women. People who have family members with a gambling disorder are also more at risk, suggesting that there is a genetic component to the condition.

Pathological gambling (PG) is characterised by maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviour that cause distress and are difficult to control. PG usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood, and tends to be more prevalent among men than women. It is more common in strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as poker, and less common in nonstrategic forms of gambling, such as slot machines and bingo.

Taking up a hobby or spending time with friends who do not gamble are good ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and prevent the urge to gamble from returning. Postponing gambling and seeing a counsellor may also help. You can call a gambling helpline or attend a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous.

A range of psychological treatments can be used to address gambling problems, including psychotherapy and family therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps people recognise and change unhealthy thinking, emotions and behaviors. It involves working with a trained, licensed psychologist or clinical social worker.

There are no medications that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat a gambling disorder, but some medications can be used to help with co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression. It is important for families of a person with a gambling disorder to set boundaries in managing money and to ensure that their own financial security is not at risk. It is also a good idea to seek support from other families who have dealt with the same issue. It can feel like you are alone in dealing with this difficult situation.