This page explains why it is important to understand your gambling, how gambling starts, what keeps you gambling, and the types of gambling associated with problem gambling. It also describes the impact and harms of gambling. 

You can also understand your gambling by taking our self-assessment questionnaire.

Why is it important to understand your gambling?

Understanding how and why you gamble and the impact it has helps you to do something about it.

Being clear about the long-term effects your gambling has on you and the people around you, will help you decide whether you want to continue gambling, cut down or stop altogether.

Identifying internal and external triggers and drivers for your gambling will help you manage these positively.

How does gambling start? 

It is easy. It can happen to anyone. The gambling industry has been very successful in exploiting basic learning principles to encourage people to place a bet and then keep them hooked.  In 2019, UK gamblers lost over £14 billion.

To start with, you may have seen gambling as just another form of entertainment. You may have watched family members bet for fun, or you may have placed a bet because you were out with friends and it seemed like an enjoyable shared activity, or you picked up on advertising at sporting events which promotes gambling as a ‘cool’ and ‘fun’ thing to do.

What keeps you gambling? 

A gambling habit can develop from the combination of:

  • An early win, or variable, occasional wins. These may be small, token wins such as a ‘free’ bet. However, they can still be very powerful in encouraging you to gamble again and again.
  • The sensations that you feel when gambling or about to gamble, such as excitement, arousal and tension.

Membership programmes offer extra incentives to people who regularly lose money through gambling. These can include VIP treatment, free hospitality access, free bets, cash back on losing wagers and tickets to matches or sporting events. The catch is that these perks encourage you to lose even more money.

Thinking errors 

Over time, you will start to develop biased and distorted thinking about your gambling. Common thinking errors are:

  • Believing that you are in control: Such as “I am on a winning streak”, “the odds are in my favour”, “I have my lucky dice with me” etc.
  • Thinking you can make accurate predictions: Such as “I know which horse will win”, “I know who will score the first goal”, “I know when the slot machine will pay out” etc.
  • Making faulty interpretations of gambling outcomes: Such as, “I have just had a run of losses, a win is just around the corner”, “if I continue now, I will get back the money I have lost”, “I always win more than I lose” etc.

Does the type of gambling matter? 

The games that are most frequently associated with problem gambling offer:

  • Fast play
  • Frequent wins (even if small) and quick payouts.

You get these sorts of games on mobile or online devices. Advertising for gambling often promotes the use of smartphones by emphasising the control that people think they have when placing bets. The reality is, of course, that fast-paced, repetitive and chance-based games require rapid and impulsive decisions, without time to reflect. Before you know it, you are chasing your losses.

This can happen with online ‘in-play’ sports betting. Here, people can go on betting once a game has started and can change their bets depending on how the game is progressing. Whilst this makes the sporting event more exciting or interesting, it can also contribute to unplanned and excessive gambling through loss-chasing and thinking you can predict what will happen next. This, of course, is unlikely in reality.

Impact and harms of gambling 

Harm from gambling is not just about losing money. Gambling can affect the way you think and feel about yourself, your relationships, how you manage your studies or perform at work, your social life and your physical and mental health.

It can harm not only the person who gambles but the people around them too. In the UK, around seven people are affected for every person who has a gambling problem. These are mainly family members, but also friends, colleagues and communities.

  • Having less time or money to spend on recreation and family
  • Reduced savings
  • Increased consumption of alcohol
  • Feelings of guilt or regret
  • Lying to others to cover up the amount of time you spend on your mobile phone or internet, or how you spend your money.

  • Relationship difficulties or conflict
  • Children showing signs of distress and experiencing difficulties at school
  • Reduced study or work performance, days off sick or absent
  • Financial difficulties/debts
  • Having to do without basics like food, utilities and clothing
  • Changes in sleeping, eating, or sexual relationship patterns
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of shame and hopelessness
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation.

If these signs go unnoticed, they can escalate or lead to more severe signs of harm.

  • Bankruptcy and homelessness
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Severe anxiety and depression, possibly leading to self-harm and suicide
  • Dropping out of studies or losing job
  • Criminal and anti-social behaviour such as stealing from family and friends or committing fraud.

Making changes to your gambling habits 

After reading this page, you hopefully have a better understanding of how and why you gamble and the impact it has on your life, and on other people.

If you need some support with making changes to your gambling habits, visit our self-help section or refer yourself to access our professional support.

Some of the information and advice in this section is based on information and advice developed by West Midlands Gambling Harms Clinic.