Gambling and Mental Health


Gambling is an activity where one puts something of value at risk in the hope of winning a prize. Often it is money, but it can also be something else of value such as a vehicle or a house. It is a popular pastime around the world, with a legalized gambling market worth over $10 trillion annually (illegal gambling may exceed this figure). Gambling can be  conducted in many ways, such as playing marbles games, betting on horse races or sports events, placing a wager on lottery tickets or slot machines, or even by betting with friends on board games or card games such as poker or blackjack.

People who have a mental health problem are particularly vulnerable to harmful gambling. This is because they are more likely to gamble as a way of trying to feel better about themselves or to distract themselves from feelings of anxiety or depression. They may also be more prone to gambling because they have lower incomes and would therefore stand to gain more from a large win. This makes them more likely to try to recover any losses by gambling again, and this can spiral out of control.

A significant proportion of people with a mental health condition develop pathological gambling (PG), which is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of behavior. Typically, a person will begin gambling in adolescence or young adulthood and will develop a PG several years later. The ratio of men to women with a PG is 2:1 and it is more common in younger people.

Research into the causes and effects of PG is ongoing. However, there are a number of challenges to conducting longitudinal studies on gambling behavior. Despite these obstacles, longitudinal studies offer an important opportunity to improve our understanding of the etiology of PG and develop more effective interventions.

It is possible to prevent problems with gambling by avoiding it altogether or by setting limits on how much time and money one will spend on it. It is also a good idea to seek help and support from friends and family if you have a gambling problem or know someone who does. It can be helpful to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step program model of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Gambling can be addictive and lead to financial difficulties. If this is a concern for you or someone you know, it’s important to get free debt advice. Visit StepChange for free, confidential debt help. Alternatively, you could consider talking to your GP who can help you explore ways to manage gambling and provide guidance on how to deal with it. If you think you have a problem with gambling, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. This is because gambling can have negative health consequences that can include serious financial problems, debt and mental illness. It can also have a detrimental impact on your relationships.