The Impact of Gambling

If You Could Lose, Why Would You Risk It?

The idea of a jackpot win is exciting, so that’s a common reason people gamble. What they might not know is that it’s much more likely that a player will lose when gambling than win. All gambling involves risking something of value on an uncertain outcome in the hope of gaining something of greater value.

There are other reasons people gamble too. Sometimes they gamble to socialize, or to relax, or to distract themselves from other things they have to do, which is never a good reason. Some people also see gambling as a form of entertainment, like going to the movies or watching a hockey game.

Girl with tablet computer

Why Do Gamblers Do What They Do?

What you might not know is that gambling can give you feelings of joy and excitement. The problem is, those feelings can cloud judgment and cause people to make not-so-smart decisions. Here’s how that works.

  • The Reward Hub

    When a person gambles, it gives them emotional and physical reactions, like feelings of euphoria, sweaty palms or a racing heart. That triggers the “Reward Hub” in the brain, and tells the person to keep going. The confusing part is that the “Reward Hub” will produce those reactions when a person wins AND when a person loses, so they might keep going either way. That’s why there’s also a “Control Network” in the brain.

  • The Control Network

    The “Control Network” is the part of the brain that tells you to put the brakes on if you’re doing something that could cause harm. Sounds like a pretty good safety net, right? Not always. Sometimes, if the reactions gambling produces are too strong, the “Control Network” stops working. Gambling can then become a habit and the gambler is no longer fully in control. Now every time the person gets feelings of euphoria, sweaty palms or a racing heart, it makes them want to gamble. Since those reactions happen all the time, they want to gamble more often than they used to. And that’s when gambling can become a problem.

    Wouldn’t a person know if gambling was causing them problems and stop? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

 

The Gambler’s Journey

All gambling starts with a first time. Some people don’t even realize they’re doing it, like if they play bingo for money or enter a raffle.

If a player has some “beginner’s luck” and wins the first time they play, that could make them think they have some skill, even for games of chance. Remember, there is no skill that can help in a game of chance.

At this point, a person can get blinded by what we call the “Gambler’s Fallacy.” That’s when people start to predict the outcome of the games they’re playing based on how things went in the past. For example, if a person keeps losing, they might start to think that they are “overdue” for a win, so they will keep playing, which means they are likely to lose even more money.

Before long, gambling might start to get in the way of other parts of a person’s life, like neglecting job responsibilities, not having enough money to pay for other things, or neglecting family and friends. When that happens, it can cause harm.

 

What You Risk Losing When You Gamble

Gambling can be entertaining, but if it becomes problematic, there can be many consequences. It can have negative effects on mental health and physical health. Sometimes it can get in the way of doing homework or other important things that they need to do. It can also put a strain on relationships with family and friends. Not to mention, it can get you into financial trouble if you don’t know how to play responsibly. Basically, it can make a person’s life less great than it used to be.

Are You Talking About Me?

We’re glad you asked. As a matter of fact, teens like you are actually at higher risk of running into problems with gambling. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible, considering you’re not legally allowed to gamble. It’s because often teens are exposed to gambling before they’re of legal age in the form of casino-style games on social networking sites, doing dares or challenges for money, and playing poker with friends. The early exposure makes teens less likely to see gambling as an activity that can lead to a problem later on. And there’s also the little matter of what’s going on in your grey matter – your pre-frontal cortex is still not fully grown until age 25, making it harder now for you to assess risk when you do gamble.

A Few More Things That Lead to Higher Risk

Gambling online has a higher potential to lead to risky gambling behaviours. Being able to do it from almost anywhere makes gambling more accessible so it’s easy to do more frequently, which can also lead to issues. Games are designed to stimulate your brain and keep you playing, which can also lead to risky gambling behaviour.

  • Mental Health

    Mental health is a factor that can lead to risky gambling behaviour, especially if someone is motivated to gamble because they feel anxious or depressed. And that might be even more likely during COVID-19. There have been higher rates of severe anxiety and depression recorded among young people during the pandemic.

  • Worried About Someone’s Gambling?

    Having a parent or family member who engages in risky gambling behaviour also puts people at risk of running into trouble with gambling. If you’re worried about someone you know and their gambling, you can find support here.

Finding Support

If you’re worried that someone you care about is gambling too often, there are lots of resources available to help them, and you.

Learn More