Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?

Thoughts of a gambler

Thoughts about gambling are one of the main factors which differentiate somebody with a gambling problem from a non-gambler or a recreational gambler. “Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?” is often a question that people with gambling problems bring to treatment. The answer to this question can be found in the thoughts you have about gambling or about a poker machine or horse race.

The defining feature of a problem gambler’s thinking is the tendency to overestimate the chances of winning. The thoughts underlying this have to do with a misunderstanding of probability (how likely something is to happen) as well as a tendency to overestimate the influence of skill (how you play the machine or how much you know about a sport) compared to the influence of chance (all the other things that are out of your control).

These ideas are complex as we often don’t question the accuracy or truthfulness of our own thoughts. This is usually adaptive, however can become problematic when our thoughts are inaccurate or biased as we continue believe our inaccurate thoughts are true and act accordingly. This is the case with problem gambling, we often think (and strongly believe) that our thoughts about gambling are accurate.

Looking objectively at the outcome or evidence for these thoughts is a useful way of testing the accuracy of our thoughts. For example having the thought ‘I understand the poker machines and I can win’ could be tested by reviewing the evidence – have you ‘won’ more than you have lost or spent on the poker machines in the long-term? Are you in debt because of this thought? Does the outcome of your last five gambling sessions provide you with evidence that supports this thought?

The focus of gambling treatment is testing the accuracy of our thoughts regarding gambling and may involve providing you with the evidence and tools to change your thinking regarding gambling and your ability to ‘win’.

Knowing how gambling works helps people develop a true belief that they cannot win. Start informing yourself and begin the journey of overcoming your gambling problem today – Gambling Help can support you along the way. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for free and confidential support.

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