This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
Many people who struggle with gambling want to know why this happened to them. The question ‘why me?’ is valid – why is it that some people are vulnerable to developing gambling problems, while others seem to be able to gamble within their limits?
Below are some potential risk factors that might predispose someone to have issues with gambling. Remember – not all people with these risk factors will go on to have trouble with gambling – but we know that each factor increases the likelihood that a person will have issues.
Do any of these risk factors sound familiar?
1. You’ve had a family member who has issues with gambling
Watching a parent or guardian gambling can make it seem like a normal part of life. In your childhood you can form beliefs about gambling that can last a lifetime. If a person has grown up in a family where gambling is a normal part of life, it can become something they associate with positive memories and part of their identity. This can make gambling harder to stay away from later in life.
2. You have an ‘addictive personality’
Some people may have or inherit what they call an ‘addictive personality’. If a parent had addictions, then it is more likely that their child will have similar issues. There is mixed evidence about whether addictive habits are learned behaviours, genetic, or a combination of the two.
There is a certain combination of personality traits that can put you at risk of developing an addiction. These traits include:
- impulsivity — having a hard time resisting urges or thinking things through
- low tolerance for distress — having the urge to do something to get rid of an unpleasant feeling, rather than tolerating it
- lack of consequential thinking — a tendency to not really think through the consequences of your behaviour.
There are a lot of contributing factors, but the good news is that even if you do have these traits, you can learn to self-regulate. With practice, you can develop more control over your decisions.
3. You’ve experienced trauma or mental illness in your life
Often when we are struggling with traumatic memories or untreated mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, we can find ourselves acting impulsively in an attempt to get rid of unpleasant feelings and feel good again.
Dopamine is the chemical that makes you feel good and confident. Gambling increases the amount of dopamine in your brain. People who are depressed are very vulnerable because they can find that gambling makes them feel better in the short term, so they continue to do it as a coping strategy. But it can spiral out of control. The stress and addictive nature of gambling becomes a problem and generally makes things worse.
4. You’re going through a stressful time — grief, work stress, relationship issues or financial problems
Many people we talk to at the Gambling Helpline have one thing in common — their gambling started and persists because of stress in their lives. Some people use gambling to switch off and relax. This temptation can be irresistible when you’re stressed or going through a hard time. However in the long run it’s not really relaxing at all, because it’s only a temporary escape from reality and eventually can increase your stress.
The good news is that finding ways to manage stress — whether that is getting some professional support for grief or relationship issues, seeing a financial counsellor for the money problems, or even starting an exercise regime to manage overall stress — can help reduce the temptation to gamble as stress relief.
No matter why you are struggling, you deserve help to live a life free of gambling issues. If you meet one or more of these risk factors, or are concerned about your gambling for any reason, contact us at Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858. You’ll speak to a trained counsellor who can offer support and guidance about how to manage a gambling issue, and provide referrals to face- to-face gambling and financial counsellors.