Gambling involves risking something of value on an uncertain probability of a greater return, typically based on luck or chance rather than pure skill. Common gambling forms involve casinos, lotteries, betting and bookmaking on sports or racing, and even the stock market.
- Ease of accessibility. While traditional forms can be controlled by restricting physical access, the ease of accessing online gaming and gambling sites has now made it possible not only to engage in these activities 24/7, but also to do so at the click of a button or a simple login.
- Reward system and dopamine release. As in the case of other forms of addiction, gambling activities reinforce the neurotransmitter dopamine. A fast speed of play combined with the short time between placing a bet and winning creates a gratifying connection between the activity of betting and receiving the reward of a dopamine hit. The mind is tricked into chasing the risk in anticipation of a dopamine reward, leading to impulsive loss-chasing behaviours. Gambling addictions can often lead to disastrous financial, emotional and mental consequences.
- Inaccurate analysis of pros and cons. Research has found that persistent gamblers often rely on emotional decision-making, and have distorted beliefs in their own skills, statistical probability, and randomness of chance. Gamblers tend to overestimate the likelihood of outcomes which have a low probability of occurring, leading to decision-making that does not accurately take into account the risk involved in their bets.
Known as the gambler’s fallacy, this distortion causes one to assume that a small number of random outcomes (e.g. getting four tails in a row in a coin toss) reflects a consistent and enduring rule that will continue to apply to following events and make decisions on this assumption. In addition, game makers or the House, construct an illusion of control through providing choice, or devising near-misses which make one feel more motivated to put down that one last bet to a big win.
- Other non-monetary incentives. Virtual or offline games which provide points, advantages or rewards based on luck or chance, for instance, can also lead to gambling behaviour. The popular TV series ‘Squid Game’ showed the dark side of gambling, where even human lives were used as stakes in the game. When the individual finds it difficult to disengage from the activity despite it causing problems in relationships, work, personal and emotional life, or financial responsibilities, it is time to seek professional help.
- Feeling the need to be secretive about your gambling activity
- Feeling the need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to feel enjoyment
- Being unable to stop or control gambling, or feeling that you need to try it “just one more time”
- Gambling even when you cannot afford it or have exceeded your budget
- Gambling to avoid or escape difficult, stressful or negative emotions and situations
- Feeling anxious, irritated or distressed when thinking about stopping
- Spending significant amounts of time thinking about, or planning to engage in the gambling activity
- Experiencing relationship, work or emotional and mental problems due to gambling, including neglecting other responsibilities or jeopardising relationships
- Other addictions such as alcohol or substances
- Emotional upheaval, trauma or existing depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Being around others who gamble frequently or may have a similar addiction
- Illegal borrowing, other financial debts
While some may rely on online checklists for self-assessment, the clearest first step is to undergo an evaluation with a trained clinical professional, who can assess the extent of the issue and develop a treatment plan suited to each person’s circumstances.
The Intake Assessment (Usually a 1 hour session)
The first visit with the clinical psychologist usually entails a detailed assessment of the extent of the gambling problem, as well as contributing factors, contextual history and any other relevant personal background.
Based on these, the clinician will develop a treatment plan that focuses on finding the most effective approach based on the underlying drivers and reasons for gambling behaviour, and work with the individual to address these issues and develop coping and behavioural strategies for different situations and triggers.
Where appropriate, medication may be prescribed to help manage impulsive or compulsive behaviour. Underlying issues will also need to be addressed, and where appropriate family members or loved ones may be involved with the client’s consent, to enable better mutual understanding and a more supportive environment. Part of the treatment plan will also involve helping the individual develop life skills and strategies to manage relapses or slips, so that the long-term recovery pathway remains intact.