Problem Gambling


Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent of winning something else of value. Unlike drugs, gambling does not involve the ingestion of chemical substances but it does cause the brain to produce the same dopamine response. It can be a form of entertainment, but when a person becomes addicted it can become a problem. Problematic gambling can have a serious impact on a person’s physical and mental health, their family and work life and even lead to homelessness.

While the majority of people who gamble do so to win money, the reasons for gambling can be far broader. For some it is a form of escapism; the chance to escape reality and enter a fantasy world where they can experience different emotions and socialise with others. It can also be seen as a way to satisfy basic human needs such as the need for status or the desire to feel special. The marketing and branding of casinos is geared towards this need, portraying a glamorous, opulent and exclusive environment in which people can indulge.

For the elderly, gambling can be a regular pastime that improves their wellbeing and makes them happier. A study found that older adults who gambled regularly had better self-reported health, lower rates of depression and a more robust support network than those who did not. This could be due to the fact that gambling engages multiple brain regions and helps control impulsivity, regulate reward systems and weigh risk.

However, not everyone can enjoy gambling as a hobby and it can be very difficult for some to recognise the signs of a problem. Often, these people will deny that they are causing harm and hide their gambling activity or even lie to family and friends. They may also start to lose control of their finances, leading to debt and even bankruptcy.

People who are prone to addictive behaviours have genetic, biological and environmental influences that can influence how they process rewards, control impulses and weigh risk. They can also be influenced by their cultural contexts, where they live and how many casinos are nearby. A culture that sees gambling as a normal pastime can make it harder for people to identify and seek help for harmful gambling activities.

A study was conducted in a nursing home to examine how happiness levels of residents changed as they were engaged with simulated gambling games on a laptop computer. The study involved three elderly residents who had a history of gambling, aged between 80 and 90. They were asked to answer questions about their happiness before and after a 10-minute baseline observation, and they were then directed to play the simulated gambling game of their choice for two sessions of 10 minutes each. They were presented with a set of five categories of visual stimuli (animals, food, letters, people and casino games) in pairs and had to select the one they preferred more.