A gambling addiction can happen to anyone at any time. There are times in all our lives when we need to take some form of gamble – whether that is deciding on an investment, or choosing to take a new job. Gambling is addictive because our brains are wired to connect rewards with happy and positive emotions, which keep us motivated. This is known as the brain's 'reward system'. While many people experience a thrill from betting, an interest in gambling becomes an addiction when it starts to take over your life – to the point where you become motivated by an intense and overwhelming urge to gamble, regardless of the financial and social consequences. Gambling addiction is linked to the release of dopamine in the brain when a person gambles, and is similar to addictive substances in the way it stimulates reward centres. Over time, the body needs increasing amounts of dopamine to feel the same rush, which is why compulsive gamblers want to gamble again and again.
There are many reasons why people gamble – some love the rush of adrenaline they experience and the thrill of the act, while others like to have the motivation of potentially winning money. Other reasons for gambling include socialising with others, and trying to escape from stress or worry. Gambling becomes a problem when a person bets more than they can afford to lose, starts to borrow money to fuel a gambling addiction, or becomes anxious or worried about gambling. Most people who gamble set up payment limits to control their spending. Those who are compulsive gamblers find it hard to control the amounts they spend, and become quickly compelled to play again, especially if they have previously lost money. Over time, this behavioural pattern becomes destructive. However, there is help available and places you can turn to for support and treatment.
A gambling addiction can have devastating consequences on a person's life. It isn't exactly clear what causes someone to develop a gambling addiction, but it has been suggested that it may stem from a combination of environmental, psychological and genetic factors, as well as an individual's first encounters and experiences of gambling. For instance, a person may have a particularly positive first experience that may have led to an unhealthy obsession and problem gambling later down the line. However it begins, compulsive gambling can soon take its toll, and it is important to seek help if you suspect you or your loved one has a gambling addiction.