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How to Gamble Responsibly and How to Get Help

There is hardly anyone in the world who has never placed a single bet in their lives. Many people make one bet per year, perhaps on something like the Superbowl or the Eurovision Song Contest. Others may bet monthly or even daily. For some people, online gambling is a hobby, and they win and lose a little bit of money each month. The key point here is that the majority of people who gamble do so in a responsible way.

Unfortunately, the rule is that for every majority, there exists a minority too. A small percentage of the population find gambling addictive, and they find it hard to control their gambling. Gambling is the quintessential example of ‘risk and reward’ triggers in the brain. The ‘risk’ element triggers excitement and anticipation, while the ‘reward’ element triggers a pleasurable, emotional response.

Understanding gambling and the concept of risk and reward

Our brain ‘signals’ emotions by releasing or restricting specific chemicals. If you receive some bad news, you may feel sad – your brain will restrict certain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, which you need to make you feel happy or content. You feel sad without them – sometimes the brain will restrict these chemicals without there being a trigger, which is a contributing factor towards depression.

When you feel happy, the brain will release higher serotonin levels and dopamine, which you will find pleasurable. When you put yourself open to risk, the brain will release a chemical called norepinephrine which makes you feel both stressful yet ready to deal with the risk. This combination can also feel pleasurable – it is the same kind of feeling you may get when watching a tense movie.

Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s brain is different. Everyone’s brain will release and restrict chemicals in different ways and in different amounts, which is why some people are more emotional than others.

Everyone reacts differently to activities that create emotional responses.

It is also why some people are more likely to become problem gamblers than others. For some people, the feelings of ‘risk and reward’ are slight, which means they probably hardly ever gamble, but it adds nothing to how they feel. Other people who do enjoy ‘risk and reward’ also have better ways of dealing with it. They understand that the risk is not worth the reward, which means they will not risk lots of money when they gamble, and if they do suffer a losing streak they have the ability to shrug their shoulders and walk away.

The key area when it comes to problem gambling is two-fold. The first type of problem gambler is someone who enjoys the sensations of ‘risk and rewards’ so much that they find it hard to envision their life without those feelings. The second type of problem gambler enjoys the sensation of reward so much that they ignore the ‘risk’ element. They do not find the ‘risk’ emotion enjoyable at all, but they are willing to endure it as long as they get the ‘reward’ factor at the end – like someone going through the pain of running a marathon just for the feelings of accomplishment they get when they cross the finish line.

Addiction is a common attribute of human life; everyone has the capacity to suffer from it, and it is a purely physical thing. People addicted to narcotics, alcohol, or nicotine ignore the risk to their health to receive the reward of the sensations that those substances bring. People who are addicted to, say, video gaming, ignore the risk to their social and family life to receive the reward of doing something they really enjoy.

Recognising you are a problem gambler is usually a difficult task.

Addiction and denial are two things that go hand in hand. Denial is the refusal of someone to accept the truth – in this case; they are addicted to some aspect of their behaviour. The easiest way of not confronting a problem is to deny that there’s a problem in the first place. Alcoholics will come up with all manner of excuses to deny that their drinking is a problem, solely because alcohol is so entrenched as part of their lives that they are terrified of being forced to live without it.

It is also a common factor of denial because the more someone who is addicted to something is confronted with the truth, the more they will deny it. It’s the push-back, ‘give as good as you get’ factor of human life. The more someone pushes against a wall you have put up to protect yourself from something, the more you push back to prevent that wall from collapsing.

Therefore, it is often best that someone who has any form of addiction problem discovers and recognises that they have a problem themselves. The best way of telling someone you think they have a gambling problem is not to demand they stop gambling, but to take a look at their behaviours in comparison to other people who have admitted they do have a gambling problem.

{You can read our article here about recognising that you may have a gambling problem}.

How you can overcome your addiction to problematic gambling

To most people, the solution to problem gambling seems obvious – stop gambling. More often than not, this is the worst solution.

The common solution to substance addiction is to go ‘cold turkey’ – stop exposing your body to the chemicals (narcotics, alcohol, nicotine) you are addicted to. No physician worthy of the name would recommend this though. There are services in the US that help opioid-addicts by allowing them to go ‘cold turkey’, but it is only done under constant sedation and medical care. Bodies have a way of adapting to the unnatural chemicals some of us introduce into ourselves and adapt so well they can only function if such chemicals keep on being introduced. For someone with severe alcohol-dependency issues, going ‘cold turkey’ can actually be lethal.

So, what is the solution to overcoming problematic gambling, if it’s not stopping gambling? True, some people can make one final bet, and that’s it, but not many problem gamblers have the ability to do that. It is far better to re-educate the brain and learn responsible gambling strategies, such as bankroll management.

{You can learn more about overcoming problematic gambling here}.

Learning how to gamble responsibly may be the solution to problematic gambling.

Not everyone has the capacity to gamble responsibly (for those people the only solution to problem gambling is to reduce and then stop gambling). Still, most people can learn how to gamble responsibly – even problem gamblers. It is a common trope in TV and movies for every fictional problem gambler to suffer nothing but a long path to rack and ruin, but that does not have to the case. Many problem gamblers have learned how to recognise their gambling tendencies and deal with them effectively.

The online wagering world has tools in place to help problem gamblers. Many casino licensees (such as the UK Gambling Commission) insist that their licence holders have tools in place to help people who are showing signs of problematic or addictive gambling. Not only are there tools that a gambler can use to restrict their gambling such as bet limits and self-exclusion, but the online casino or sportsbook is also tasked with the duty of monitoring its clients account usage and betting patterns. If you are placing too many wagers or losing too frequently or too much money, you may find that the online casino will suggest that you take steps to limit your gambling. If you refuse to, they may lock and close your account.

The key though to learn how to gamble responsibly is not to do it alone. There are plenty of support groups available internationally, nationally, and locally to help you if you need aid in learning how to gamble responsibly.

{If you want to learn more about responsible gambling, then read here}

Where you can get help if you feel or have been told that you may have a gambling problem

Learning that you can get help is good news, of course, but you need to know where you can get help. There are plenty of organisations available with the remit of helping problematic gamblers, or people who feel they are gambling a little too much and may need a little support to prevent their gambling from causing them further problems.

{Go here to find a list of organisations tasked with helping people with gambling problems}.

No matter how deep your gambling problems, there is always a solution

The vast majority of people can gamble responsibly, but it is not that easy for some of us. If you have a gambling problem, then perhaps the first step you need to take is not to blame yourself or feel you need to punish yourself for falling foul of problematic gambling. As was stated earlier, everyone’s brain works differently, and for some people, the way their brain works means they would always have problems with addiction, no matter how hard they tried not to. Your brain can sometimes be your enemy as much as it can be your friend.

No matter how far down the dark path of problematic gambling you have trodden there is always a solution, and people willing to help you. There is no need for problematic gambling to cause a detrimental effect upon the rest of your life. Everyone can – with help or not – overcome their difficulties and leave problematic gambling behind.

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