How Gambling Affects Humans
Problem gambling can have negative social, psychological, and physical consequences. It’s classified as an impulse control disorder. Problem gambling not only destroys an individual’s monetary resources, but it can cause physical health problems, such as headaches, intestinal disorders, and depressive episodes. Gamblers can also become despondent, depressed, and even attempt suicide. This is why identifying a problem gambler and seeking treatment is so crucial.
Throughout the course of a gambling session, problem gamblers experience an acute stress response. This stress response leads to an increase in the level of catecholamines and pituitary-adrenal hormones. Problem gamblers have higher levels of cortisol during gambling sessions compared to non-gamblers, and these elevated levels stay elevated for a prolonged period of time. However, these findings are contradictory, and further research is needed to find out whether gambling causes substance abuse.
There is evidence that humans have gambled for thousands of years. In fact, dice made of sheep bones are one of the oldest known implements of gambling. Chinese commoners also gambled on animal fights, and the rulers of the country lost state funds on gambling. In fact, the Chinese government began sourcing funds for its budget from Keno slips in 200 BC. But why did this activity take root? What has been the impact of gambling on humans throughout history?
Problem gambling has no physical symptoms, and often co-occurs with other disorders. More than ninety percent of problem gamblers meet the diagnostic criteria for another mental illness. It is the leading cause of suicide among addictive disorders, and nearly one in five problem gamblers attempt suicide. Furthermore, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that problem gambling costs the U.S. economy $7 billion a year in social costs, including healthcare expenses, lost jobs, and criminal justice involvement.
The first step toward seeking help for a gambling addiction is talking with the person affected. Talking with the person may inspire them to seek treatment. The counselor may also suggest other activities that they enjoy. For example, writing, drawing, playing an instrument, or volunteering can keep them busy and off the gambling track. During the treatment, they may work with a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. A therapist will help them identify and work through any underlying issues that have caused their gambling problem.
The underlying reasons why people turn to gambling can be complex. The addiction is often triggered by a specific environmental trigger or an emotional reaction. Sometimes, it is a financial problem that they seek to solve, or it may be a coping mechanism for negative emotions. In any case, the person must learn to have a healthy relationship with money and stop feeding the gambling habit. By pursuing treatment, they can learn to live without the object of their addiction.