Understanding gambling

If gambling has stopped being fun for you and is starting to feel like a problem, you may find yourself asking why you gamble. But gambling doesn't start as a problem. Most people gamble:

  • for a bit of excitement
  • as part of a social activity
  • to win money
  • to distract themselves from the pressures of work and family
  • for a safe place to go out of the house.

However gambling can change and grow without you noticing it becoming bigger in your life and that's where it can become a problem.

Some of the ways people describe this happening are:

The Big Win

A big win can change gambling from entertainment to being about winning money.

The problem here is that all forms of gambling have a house advantage meaning, over time, the house always wins.  Or more importantly, the gambler always loses. This means any gambling you do that is driven by a need to win money, including trying to win back money you've already lost, is not going to work.

Gambling to to cope with stress

Any entertainment can be a useful diversion from stress, grief or life's hassles but can turn negative when it stops being a diversion and starts being a way to cope. This is because ignoring a problem doesn't usually make it go away.

Using gambling to escape other problems can leave you with an even bigger problem, less money and less goodwill from family and friends

Why is it so hard to stop?

People who have gambling problems often ask themselves why they just can't stop.

Even though there is no drug or substance involved in gambling, problem gambling is categorised as an addiction in the psychiatric literature in the same section as drug and alcohol addictions.

That problem gambling is an addiction and has some of the same features in terms of brain activity as substance addictions explains why just trying to stop sometimes isn't enough to make it happen.

It also explains why despite wanting to stop, many people will struggle to control their gambling and have to try many times to stop before being successful.  It also explains why, just like with other types of addiction, some people will remain vulnerable to problems with gambling returning in the future.

Medications are now being used to treat addictions and some of these have been useful in treating gambling addiction but it is still early days so you may not be offered medication treatment in Victoria.  As these drugs are improved and their effectiveness more widely proven it's likely these approaches will become more widely available.

A process of gambling

Like many addictive processes, gambling can seem in the short term to solve the problems it causes in the long term. For example, at the start gambling can help divert your attention from problems but can make them worse in the long term.

Because it seems to work in the short term, some people gamble more and more, setting up a vicious cycle where the affects get worse over time.

This cycle can look a bit like this

The Gambling Cycle:

This gambling lifecycle shows the stages of gambling: Gambling (Bingo, Pokies, cards, roulette, horse racing, lotteries) , Life stree ( Family, relationships, health, work, finances) to Feelings (Anxiety, depression, stress, boredom)

The cost of gambling

Uncontrolled gambling costs much more than money.  It can also lead to:

  • losing self respect and that of family, friends and work colleagues
  • relationships breaking down including marriages and losing friends
  • damage to your health, for example not eating or sleeping properly, or existing health problems getting worse
  • problems at work from missing work or not being able to concentrate
  • losing interest in other social activities, shutting you off from the world
  • flunking out of school, TAFE or university because you can't focus on your education

Uncontrolled gambling can also lead people to doing things they otherwise would never consider, like stealing money or breaking the law, to sustain their gambling habit.

When gambling becomes a problem

There is no clear answer about when gambling becomes a problem. It's different for everyone but if you think it might be a problem and it's causing issues in your life, then it's probably time to rethink your gambling.

Find out more about how you can tell when your gambling is causing issues for you.

One of the things we know about gambling is that some of the things people believe about gambling can push them to gamble more.

Some of the myths associated with gambling include:

  • If I continue gambling, I am bound to win
  • I can win back what I have lost
  • gambling is a solution to my financial problems
  • gambling is the only way I can escape from stress
  • the only way to stop the urge to gamble is to go ahead and gamble

None of these statements are true.

Useful links

Types of help to help you break a gambling habit

How gambling works

Types of gambling

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