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Why do people gamble?

This question is often asked about by relatives and friends as they cannot understand why gamblers are putting themselves and their loved ones through such pain and unhappiness. If something is causing such a problem, why not just stop and be happier? A similar question is “why are some people able to gamble within their limits without developing such problems? Does it demonstrate a sign of weakness, or the inability to cope? However, the truth of the matter is rarely so simple. Gambling problems are often experienced as being completely outside of the person’s control, and ‘just stopping’ isn’t felt to be a reasonable option. 

Additionally, many people find themselves unable to explain why they continue to gamble despite the problems it causes in their day-to-day lives. The most obvious answer is “for the money”, but perhaps you can challenge yourself here:  When you win, do you spend your winnings on more gambling? Do you continue to gamble until you have little or no money left?

 A lot of gamblers feel they are waiting for the ‘big win’, which never comes but always seems tantalisingly close. But often, they find having a big win would simply fuel their desire for more gambling, leaving them feeling trapped into a behaviour with no way out. This would suggest that being ‘in action’ is the most important thing, rather than winning an amount of money. A big win can change gambling from entertainment to being about winning money. The problem here is that all forms of gambling have a house advantage meaning, over time, the house always wins.  Or more importantly, the gambler always loses. This means any gambling you do that is driven by a need to win money, including trying to win back money you’ve already lost, is not going to work

 Any entertainment can be a useful diversion from stress, grief or life’s hassles but can turn negative when it stops being a diversion and starts being a way to cope. This is because ignoring a problem doesn’t usually make it go away.

Using gambling to escape other problems can leave you with an even bigger problem, less money and less goodwill from family and friends

There is another way of thinking about gambling, that it represents a symptom of a larger problem in life. While this might sound a bit scary to contemplate, perhaps consider whether you tend to gamble at certain times, or whether gambling is associated with certain feelings for you. It might well have played a large part in your life since you were quite young. If you think of it this way, you might realise that gambling problems are not a sign of weakness, but rather a way of coping with something bigger, in a way that on some level makes a lot of sense.

When gambling becomes a problem:

It is very difficult to define when gambling becomes a problem. As it is different for everyone. If you, your family or friends think it might be causing issues in your life, then maybe it is time to rethink your gambling. To find out if gambling may be a problem in your life, take this simple quiz. There are many myths associated with gambling which include:

  • If I continue to gamble, I will win and therefore 
  • I can win back what I have lost
  • Gambling is the only solution to my financial and other problems
  • Gambling is the only way I can escape from stress

If gambling has stopped being fun for you and is starting to feel like a problem, you may find yourself asking why you gamble. But gambling doesn’t start as a problem. However gambling can change and grow without you noticing it becoming bigger in your life and that’s where it can become a problem.

Why is it so hard to stop?

People who have gambling problems often ask themselves why they just can’t stop. Even though there is no drug or substance involved in gambling, problem gambling is categorised as an addiction in the psychiatric literature in the same section as drug and alcohol addictions. That problem gambling is an addiction and has some of the same features in terms of brain activity as substance addictions explains why just trying to stop sometimes isn’t enough to make it happen. It also explains why despite wanting to stop, many people will struggle to control their gambling and have to try many times to stop before being successful.  It also explains why, just like with other types of addiction, some people will remain vulnerable to problems with gambling returning in the future.