Whether it’s lottery tickets, a flutter on the horses or playing pokies, gambling is an addictive activity that can lead to harm. Psychiatrists have long recognised that pathological gambling (PG) is a mental health condition and should be treated as such. But until recently, effective treatment options have been limited.
The reason for this is that PG is often associated with other underlying mood disorders, including depression, stress and substance abuse. These conditions can trigger and worsen compulsive gambling, so it’s essential that they’re addressed as part of recovery.
But it’s also important to recognise that gambling isn’t an easy addiction to break. It’s a high-risk activity that changes brain chemistry, sending huge surges of the pleasure chemical dopamine our way. This makes us feel good, but it can lead to an unhealthy obsession with pursuing more pleasure in the form of gambling. Over time, our brains become desensitised to this pleasure, and we need more and more of it to get the same feeling.
To help prevent a relapse, it’s important to set financial and time limits for yourself before gambling. Only gamble with money that you can comfortably afford to lose, and never try to ‘chase’ your losses. This is known as the ‘gambler’s fallacy’, and it usually leads to bigger and bigger losses. It’s also helpful to find a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on a 12-step recovery program that follows the same principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.