If you read the newspapers, the odds are you will spot an article claiming South Africa has a huge gambling problem. Is it true or are the authors mere alarmists? Here’s our take on the problem.

Why do people gamble

People gamble to feel good. That’s understandable. But how does this add up to gambling addiction?

When you wager some money on a random outcome, and you wait for the reveal, your body is having an adrenaline rush. It’s a very pleasant feeling, but that’s not the only one you get while gambling.

At the core of any gambling experience, there’s dopamine. Whenever the odds are in your favour, you get a rush of this happiness hormone. It’s the same hormone that makes reaching your goals in life good and hooks people on cocaine.

So it’s a natural thing, but an easily abused one. This is why some people can easily get into the habit of gambling – to get more dopamine.

Problem gambling in South Africa

If a person cannot control their habit anymore, it can spell financial disaster. When a problem gambler loses a significant amount of money, they don’t stop. They borrow money or sell something to go back and win the money they’ve lost.

When they fail at that, problem gamblers end up in debt and burdened with depression and anxiety.

As you rightly imagine, this is a dire problem. But is it widespread in South Africa?

The National Gambling Board doesn’t think so. In their 2013 study, they’ve found that the percentage of young people who are at risk is 2.9%.

Globally, this percentage changes from 0.5% to 7.6%. This means while South Africa is not the healthiest country in regards to attitudes to gambling, there is no disaster.

The country is in the middle of the spectrum, a bit higher than the global average.

Causes of problem gambling

So problem gambling in South Africa exists and is more prevalent than the world’s average. Why does it exist?

While each case of gambling addiction is different, the consensus is that its depression that’s causing it. People who suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression are more likely to gamble irrationally.

Another factor that seems to be present in many problem gambling cases is alcohol or drug addiction. In some cases, it can be one of the reasons a person starts gambling. In others, it’s just a co-occurring factor.

A University of Windsor study found that women who are feeling lonely and lack socialization are more likely to develop a gambling problem. It’s unclear whether men were less likely to have loneliness-related gambling addiction or were less likely to self-report their mental state.

Finally, there’s a reason for gambling addiction that is particularly prevalent in the African countries. It’s survivalist gambling out of poverty. People in some of the poorest regions try gambling as their last resort of reaching financial stability.

Possible solutions

Gambling isn’t bad in and of itself but can lead some people into a bad situation if something goes wrong. The best way of preventing this is self-help.

Few addicts, gambling or otherwise, can be effectively treated if they don’t seek treatment. The best way of getting yourself out of the vicious circle of borrowing to win back the lost money is by self-exclusion.

A lot of South African casinos have a self-exclusion program, one of the first casinos provided it was Europa. It allows players to bar themselves from a casino.

However, it’s not effective against the source of addiction, stress, depression, or poverty. These problems need to be solved before an addict can gamble safely again.