Why Do Some People Get Addicted to Gambling?

Gambling addiction can be a struggle for some
Reading time: 4 minutes

While many UK players can gamble online without any adverse effects, a certain proportion of the population develops a gambling addiction. In 2016, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) conducted an extensive study. The authority found that around 340,000 UK residents were addicted to gambling. And many more were at risk of gambling addiction. But what are the risk factors? Why do some players engage in compulsive gambling or pathological gambling, while other others can stop gambling at the drop of a hat? Well, that’s what we want to explore today. Let’s begin with an overview of the problem…

What are problem gambling and gambling addiction?

Before we start, let’s define some things. What exactly is gambling addiction? Well, in short, a gambling addict is someone who finds it difficult to stop gambling. That may even be the case when they know it is affecting their life negatively. These can be psychological (such as impulse control disorder leading to poor life choices), along with unpleasant feelings and/or relationship problems. Or they can manifest purely as financial problems such as debt.

Both of these can also affect those around the gambling addict – such as colleagues, friends and family. In many ways, then, gambling addiction is similar to other addictions, such as alcohol addiction or substance abuse. However, while certain addictions can result in physical symptoms during withdrawal, gambling addiction is more closely related to mental disorders. In other words, compulsive gamblers are experiencing behavioural addictions – it’s in the mind.

The last point is why many non-gambling addicts cannot sympathise with those engaged in excessive gambling. Those that do not have a gambling disorder can’t understand why someone wouldn’t just stop gambling if they get to the stage of chasing losses, spending all their time down the bookies or even stealing money to fund their gambling activity. However, the way in which gambling can hijack the brain’s reward system is the main issue here…

The psychology of gambling addiction

While triggers include things such as a stressful day, anxiety and work or relationship problems, for example, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. More specifically, gambling addiction develops as a result of the reward system being hijacked. Our brains are wired to like and want things. For example, we may like to eat sugary things and seeing them makes us want to eat some of those same things. And when we get them, we like the feeling.

However, in the case of gambling addiction, the want side of things takes over. That’s why compulsive gamblers tend to think about the next time they can gamble all the time. As a result of this, the link between liking and wanting is severed. Wanting takes over to the detriment of other activities. While the liking (actual gambling) produces less of the liking element – tolerances increase and only larger hits of gambling satisfy the gambling addict.

But these things do not always result in someone developing a pathological gambling problem. Some people, as we said above, can take or leave gambling. They can have a bet on the big game one week, then go weeks or months without gambling again. Or go to the casino with friends and not return the next day. So, what is it that makes some people more susceptible to compulsive gambling or problem gambling? Well, there are certain conditions…

Who is more likely to have gambling problems?

While everyone is an individual, we can see certain trends. The 2016 UKGC report showed certain predispositions in pathological gamblers. For example, gambling addicts are five times more likely to be male rather than female. Those males are also most likely to be within the 25-34 age range. Unemployment is another key factor in gambling addiction. Minorities are also more likely to develop gambling problems – often linked to living in poorer areas.

As well as the more material facts above, there are psychological ones too. Low self-esteem was one factor found by the UKGC report. Another was poor mental health or particularly stressful periods of life. For example, those losing a job or relationship were more likely to spend more money on gambling than those in a stable portion of their life. Also, those with family and friends who also have gambling problems were more likely to be susceptible.

Finally, the age at which someone first starts gambling is a massive indicator of gambling addiction. Those exposed to gambling activities in their teenage years were far more likely to develop an addiction to gambling than those starting much later in life. That’s because the brain has yet to fully develop and addictive behaviours developed early on are much harder to treat. This is why the UK (and much of the world) has banned gambling below the age of 18.

10 warning signs of a gambling problem

Another key factor is what is happening in your life when gambling. And many fail to recognise the warning signs and symptoms until the problem gambling has spiralled out of control. After all, it’s very easy to get into debt, which creates a vicious cycle of chasing losses. Therefore, it’s worth checking the following 10 gambling addiction signs if you suspect you may have a problem. The same things apply when considering family members or friends…

  • Regularly thinking, strategising or talking about gambling
  • Having no interest in friends, family or non-gambling hobbies
  • Arguing with family and friends about gambling or debts
  • Hiding how much time and money is spent at online casinos
  • Spending more money than you intended to at the casino
  • Stealing or borrowing money to spend on gambling activities
  • Increasing time and money spent on gambling to get a buzz
  • Not paying the rent, mortgage or other bills when gambling
  • Scivving from work or college in order to gamble more
  • Having anxiety, guilt, worry or irritability after gambling

How to stop gambling or help others

Speaking with a mental health professional or support groups like Gamblers Anonymous can be enormously beneficial. And that’s the case if you’re trying to help someone else with their gambling habits. There are technological means to prevent yourself from gambling online too. We’ve listed these (as well as professional treatment programs) in our article on Responsible Gambling in the UK. And remember, never gamble money you cannot afford to lose.

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Peter Wilson
Peter Wilson
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Peter is our Editor-in-Chief at Gamblingauthority. He has more than eigth years of experience from the iGaming industry and is a valuable resource for everything related to online casinos.

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