Mental Health and Gambling


The gambling industry spends big bucks trying to persuade you that you’ll be able to win some money if you take a punt on a football team, buy a lottery ticket or play the pokies. But the truth is that you’re more likely to lose. And that can be harmful, even dangerous.

In one study, a man who gambled to escape from depression died in a suicide attempt. There’s a strong link between mental health and gambling problems. You’re more likely to gamble if you’re depressed, have bipolar disorder or have suffered trauma in your life.

It’s also possible to have a gambling addiction and not have any of these conditions. Disordered gambling is a broad term that encompasses all forms of betting and wagering, from those who bet small amounts on events with little chance of winning (subclinical) to those whose behavior meets Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for disordered gambling (clinical).

Gambling has been around since ancient times. People shook the dice, spun the wheel and pulled the lever on slot machines to try to win prizes such as food or clothing. The earliest known form of gambling was in China, where a coin-like clay piece was used to bet on events such as the outcome of a war or the weather. The modern casino industry grew from these early games of chance into a massive global business that includes online casinos and bricks-and-mortar establishments.

In most countries, gambling is legal and regulated. But some governments don’t regulate it, and that can lead to problems for people who enjoy gambling. Whether you gamble on horses, lotteries, sports or video poker, it’s important to set limits and stick to them. You should only bet with money that you can afford to lose. And never chase your losses – thinking that you’re due for a big win will probably just make things worse.

If you have a gambling problem, there are lots of ways to get help, including talking therapies and self-help tips. You can also find support groups, such as the peer-led organisation Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step recovery program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. You might find it helpful to join a family therapy programme or marriage, career or credit counselling if you’ve damaged your relationships or finances because of gambling.

If you’re worried about debt, speak to StepChange for free and confidential debt advice. It’s also important to recognise that there’s a strong link between financial problems and gambling problems. People with unmanaged debt are more likely to turn to risky gambling activities as a way to distract themselves from their worries, or to try and get back the money they’ve lost. If you have a gambling habit, it’s best to seek help as soon as possible. Otherwise, you could end up in a spiral of debt that’s impossible to break out of.