The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Pathological Gambling

Gambling is the placing of something of value on an uncertain event with awareness of risk and the hope of gain. It ranges from the buying of lottery tickets to sophisticated casino gambling. It can be legal or illegal and may involve a significant amount of money or non-money items.

Many people who gamble do so responsibly and without problems, but a small number of individuals experience difficulty controlling their gambling. This is known as pathological gambling and is recognised by the psychiatric community. Pathological gamblers are often unable to stop gambling despite significant negative consequences for themselves and others. They also fail to recognise the need for help.

It is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of problem gambling in order to seek treatment. The following are some common warning signs:

The urge to gamble is driven by the brain’s reward system. When you win, your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel excited. This is why you should be careful not to get sucked into the idea of ‘winning big’ or believing that you can always win back what you’ve lost.

Research shows that some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity. These traits are also linked to differences in how the brain processes reward information, controls impulses and weighs risk.

Those with these factors may find it difficult to resist the pull of the slot machines or other forms of gambling, such as online casinos, scratchcards and TV lotteries. This is because the brain’s reward system is stimulated by both losing and winning.

It can be hard to spot when a gambling problem develops, especially if you live in a culture that considers it a normal pastime. This can make it even more difficult to acknowledge that there is a problem and ask for help. You might also start lying to family and friends about your gambling or try to hide evidence of it.

The roots of gambling addiction are complex and vary between people, but the underlying mechanisms are similar to those seen in other addictions. They include an early large win, boredom susceptibility, a false sense of control, a lack of understanding of random events and the use of gambling to escape from stressful life experiences or feelings of depression. In addition, people with a gambling problem are often driven by a desire for status and social belonging. This need is promoted by casinos that foster a sense of exclusivity and status. It is also a central theme in the religions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Members Church of God International. All these factors can lead to a vicious cycle whereby you spend more and more time gambling in the hope of making up for previous losses. However, the odds of recovering those lost funds are slim to none. Therefore, chasing your losses will only lead to more financial and emotional harm in the long run.