Gambling involves putting something of value on a random event with the hope of winning something else of value. This can include betting on football matches, sports events, buying scratchcards and even lotteries. Despite the fact that there is no guarantee that you will win, many people still gamble, with some going on to become gambling addicts.
People gamble for a variety of reasons, from chasing big wins to reliving past pleasures. In general, there is less activation in the prefrontal cortex when a person gambles, which can lead to a lack of self-control. It can also be a way to relieve boredom, or a way to socialise with friends. For those who are vulnerable, gambling can lead to serious harm – including financial, family and personal.
The reason why people gamble is that it stimulates the reward centres in the brain. When you do something good for yourself – like spending time with a friend, or eating a healthy meal – your body releases a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel happy. Gambling is similar in that it activates the same areas of the brain, but with the added excitement of winning. When you lose, your body releases a chemical called cortisol, which causes you to feel bad.
In addition to this, people are more sensitive to losses than gains of equal value – for example, losing PS10 causes a greater emotional reaction than finding PS10. This can cause someone to continually invest time and money in an attempt to make up for past losses, which can lead to addiction.
Another factor that can encourage gambling is the illusion of control. When you gamble, there is no guarantee that you will win, but people often convince themselves they have some control over their chances by throwing the dice in a certain way, sitting in a particular spot or wearing a lucky item of clothing. This is a form of cognitive bias known as illusory control, and it can be very dangerous.
There are a number of ways to help with problem gambling, from psychotherapy to peer support groups. The most important thing is to recognise that it’s a problem and seek help, before it’s too late. Some people can walk away from gambling, but others can’t, which is when it becomes a serious issue.
It’s also essential to understand how gambling works, and to set realistic expectations about your chances of winning. This will help you avoid chasing losses, which can quickly turn into a vicious cycle. If you do decide to gamble, only ever gamble with money that you can afford to lose, and never use it for your food or utility bills. It’s also a good idea to have bankroll management rules in place, and to only gamble for a limited amount of time each week. To find out more about safeguarding vulnerable adults, check out our Safeguarding Training courses.