Why Is Sports Betting So Addictive?

Download Brochure

Download our brochure to learn more about our comprehensive services. Get started on your journey towards a healthier, happier life today!

When it comes to gambling, sports betting is increasingly popular in the UK. It’s embedded in popular sports culture, easy to access, and advertised across the country. But just why is sports betting so addictive? In this article, we aim to find out. 

The article will also explore what constitutes a gambling problem and what signs and symptoms you should look out for. It then compares sports betting with traditional gambling, looks at what drives people to bet on sports, and what the associated dangers are. 

We’ll also take a look at some treatment options for sports betting addiction, including finding alternatives to gambling and exploring what self-help is available for people with gambling problems. 

What Are Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling?

Nobody sets out to develop a gambling addiction. Gambling is largely thought of as an acceptable bit of ‘fun’ and is something a lot of people partake in it from time to time, whether that’s casino trips, the odd scratch card, or sports betting on your favourite team. However what starts as a bit of harmless fun can, in the right circumstances, turn into a serious gambling disorder with far-reaching consequences. 

Gambling addiction is best described as an impulse-control disorder. This means that despite understanding the negative consequences of sports gambling, you have minimal control over the urge to do it. Problem gambling is often characterised by bets becoming riskier and more frequent over time. 

Unfortunately, left untreated, problem gambling can quickly spiral and worsen, causing devastating consequences across all areas of your life including relationships, work, and finances. 

why is sports betting so addictive

Gambling Addiction Signs and Symptoms

As is the case with all addictions, people often try to hide their condition or downplay it. However, this can be tricky with gambling as it requires both time and money to partake in. What are some of the symptoms of gambling addiction? 

  • Spending a large portion of time thinking about or partaking in gambling 
  • Inability to control your impulses around gambling 
  • Avoiding bills or other necessary outgoings to prioritise gambling instead
  • Getting yourself into debt to facilitate gambling 
  • Stealing money in order to gamble 
  • Lying to loved ones about problem gambling
  • Experiencing shame or guilt after gambling 
  • Engaging in increasingly risky behaviour when gambling 
  • Other areas of your life suffering due to your problem gambling
  • Friends or family raising concerns about your gambling 

Are Sports Betting Worse Than Traditional Gambling?

Sports betting is an increasingly popular way to gamble. It has a low barrier to entry for many people, especially online sports gambling which can be done from the comfort of your own home (or, indeed, anywhere). 

Because it’s such a relatively new concept, experts are just getting to grips with the impact sports betting specifically might have on gambling addiction. For example, a 2019 report in the ‘Journal of Gambling Studies’ was the “first to our knowledge to examine risk factors for gambling problems specifically related to sports betting, rather than gambling in general.”

Experts have found that sports betting can actually create worse problems than traditional forms of gambling, such as at a casino. For one thing, most people who bet on sports feel like they have more knowledge as they are following the teams they are already invested in, so it feels less random than the roll of a dice in the casino. 

A study published in the ‘Addictive Behaviors’ journal found that sports betting when compared with non-sports betting, was strongly linked to problem gambling and ‘cognitive distortions related to the illusion of control, probability control, and interpretive control.’ If you’re wondering ‘why is sports betting so addictive?’ this could be part of the reason.

Take Control of Your Addiction Today

Unlock the Key to Your Recovery: Sign Up for Our Free Screening and Take the First Step

How to Stop Gambling for Good?

If you’ve got a sports betting addiction or a gambling disorder, getting better can feel impossible. But the good news is, with the right treatment you can leave problem gambling in your past. Whether you’ve got a sports betting addiction or another type of gambling disorder, there is help available. 

As is the case with other types of addiction including alcohol addiction or substance addiction, the key is to completely remove sports betting and any other types of gambling you partake in from your life. Whether it’s sports gambling, casino gambling, or scratch cards, it all facilitates and feeds your addiction.

There are various treatment options for sports betting addiction and other gambling disorders, we’ll outline them below. 

Inpatient Rehabilitation

While many people with sports gambling or other gambling addiction don’t require an inpatient stay, it is an option for people with a severe addiction that requires the structure and distraction an inpatient program can provide. This can be especially useful for people who have gambling addictions that take place in external venues, such as a casino, as the temptation will be entirely removed. 

Outpatient Rehabilitation

In most cases, outpatient rehabilitation is an excellent option for someone looking to overcome gambling addiction. Treating a gambling addiction is different from treating a substance abuse addiction, as there is no need for a medical detox. Instead, with behavioural addictions, the focus will be on psychological therapy.

During outpatient rehabilitation at CATCH Recovery, you will have access to evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), trauma therapy, and online therapy. You can partake in both one-to-one therapies as well as group therapy. Many clients get a lot out of the relaxation techniques we offer too, such as yoga and meditation which can be useful in stress management. 

Why Do People Bet on Sports?

Human beings are wired for seeking reward and pleasure, and sports betting take advantage of that natural urge. But why do some people end up sports betting and others don’t? And why is sports betting so addictive?

People are driven by two basic systems of the brain, with one causing them to seek out excitement and novelty and then another which applies caution and keeps an eye on risk. While we all have both systems, the levels of both vary from person to person. That’s why some people enjoy skydiving and it would be another person’s worst nightmare.

Sports betting offers people driven by excitement and novelty seeking an outlet. Downloading the app, learning the ropes, betting throughout a game – all of these are novel, slightly risky activities that for some people can feel really good. 

Who is affected by this and who isn’t comes down to a complex mixture of genes, personality, and brain chemicals like dopamine. It’s been shown that the areas of the brain to do with reward may operate differently in people who seek out higher-risk activities, like sports betting. One study found that by showing people who are frequent gamblers images of people in casinos, their brains reacted in a similar way to when shown other natural rewards, like food. 

The other interesting aspect of sports betting is that it takes something the person is already heavily invested in (their sports team) and intensifies that interest. Already, they want their team to win or their favorite player to score a goal. But with money on the line that desire is exaggerated, which for risk-seeking people may actually feel good. 

Another reason why some people engage with sports betting but not other forms of gambling comes down to ease. These days most people have a smartphone, so there is no barrier to entry. It’s the same reason why people looking to get fit lay out their gym clothes the night before (or even sleep in them) or dieters remove foods they don’t want to eat from the house. You’re more likely to go for that run if getting dressed is easier, and you’re less likely to eat the chocolate bar if you have to actually leave your house to acquire it. 

Having an app installed on your phone which you already use for so much – to communicate with loved ones, track your finances, reply to urgent work emails, consume content, etc. – makes it much more likely you’ll use it. It’s similar to the fact that living close to a gambling venue like a casino is a risk factor for developing a gambling addiction. It seems like it is just the way humans are wired. 

‘Illusion of Control’

The illusion of control refers to a concept in which people mistakenly feel a sense of control over events that are actually random, uncontrollable, or unpredictable. It is especially prevalent with betting and in particular sports betting. This is because people feel they understand their team and so feel like they are in control when placing bets. 

Dangers of Sports Betting

The UK has one of the biggest gambling markets in the world, generating a profit of £14.2 billion in 2020

There has been a lot of research into the harms associated with gambling and they are wide-reaching affecting not just the individual gambler, but often their families, friends, and society at large too. 

First of all, how big is the problem? Some 24.5 million people in England gamble, which equates to over half (54%) of the adult population. Even when you take the National Lottery out, that figure remains very high at 40%. Of that number, the majority are men. Men are more likely than women to gamble, especially when it comes to online gambling where 15% of men participate compared with 4% of women. 

But how many of those people have a gambling problem? Based on HSE data, it’s estimated that around 0.5% of the population has reached the threshold to be considered problem gamblers. In addition, 3.8% of the population was classified as ‘gambling at elevated risks’. 

The upshot? A significant proportion of the population is at risk of harm from gambling. But what exactly are those harms? Research has found that people who participate in at-risk and problem gambling have poorer health along with lower life satisfaction and well-being. There is also an association between all gambling and increased alcohol consumption. 

A review of the current research on harms associated with gambling also found gambling resulted in: financial harms including accruing gambling-related debt, relationship harms and breakdowns and an increase in anxiety and depression.  

Research also found that people with a gambling disorder have an increased risk of dying from any cause, in a given time period, relative to the general population. Further studies found deaths from suicide were significantly higher among adults with gambling disorders, compared with the general population. 

Finding Alternatives to Gambling

As you work through your recovery from gambling, it’s likely that you’ll need to make some lifestyle changes. This could involve limiting your phone access or avoiding triggering places or situations. You might also need help managing your finances to start with. 

Another thing that can help is to find some alternative activities to gambling so that your free time is filled. Boredom, loneliness, and restlessness can all be a trigger for seeking that dopamine hit from gambling, so if you can organise your life to minimise these emotions it can aid your recovery. 

One healthy alternative to gambling is physical activity. This increases your natural endorphins and other hormones that make you feel good, as well as relieves you from stress and anxiety. If loneliness is likely to be a trigger for you, look at joining a team or even partaking in group exercises such as a park run or a regular gym class. 

A few other alternatives to gambling include keeping your mind stimulated by learning new things and avoiding boredom or planning new experiences, such as travelling or trying a new restaurant, that satiates your desire for novelty. Some people also find activities such as meditation and journaling helpful during their journey toward recovery. 

Self-Help for Gambling Problems

If you are not ready to enter an outpatient program for your gambling disorder yet, you might be considering what self-help resources are available. Gamblers Anonymous, or other 12-step programmes, can be useful as they follow the same evidence-based model as the successful Alcoholics Anonymous program. The idea is the same, you build up a network of other recovered gambling addicts and meet with them regularly to share and gain insights.

Signs of a Sports Betting Addiction

There are some signs you can look out for that signal your sports betting may be getting out of hand and putting you at risk of developing a sports betting addiction. As well as the previously listed signs of gambling addiction, signs related purely to sports betting include:

  • Spend lots of time thinking about sports betting and planning your next bet
  • Needing to bet with more money to get the same high 
  • Trying to limit your sports betting but failing to do so 
  • Feeling grumpy, angry, sad, or dejected when you are unable to participate in sports betting 
  • Sports betting to make back losses but often lose more money 

Preventing Suicide in Problem Gamblers

Reducing suicides in the UK is a pressing public health issue, with around 6,000 people dying by suicide every year in the UK. Recent research has found problem gamblers are more likely than the rest of the population to have suicidal thoughts, attempt suicide and harm themselves. 

The Samaritans released a report ‘Reducing the risk of gambling-related suicide‘ which highlighted some useful steps to take. These included breaking down the stigma around suicide and gambling-related harms, raising awareness of suicide risk in the gambling environment, and providing suicide prevention training for all gambling industry staff. 

If you are concerned your gambling habit has turned into an addiction, there is help available. 

CATCH Recovery is an outpatient clinic offering treatment for addictions including gambling addictions. Our outpatient program has been developed by industry leaders and is evidence-based and informed by the latest research. 

Contact our friendly team for a free addiction screening today: 0203 468 6602 

Is Outpatient Rehab Right for You?

Call Us Today to Explore Options and Find the Best Fit for You


Why Do People Get Addicted to Betting?

Gambling and placing bets stimulate the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is released, which feels good, and this reinforces the gambling behaviour.

How Does the Brain Get Addicted to Gambling?

Gambling and betting affect your brain’s level of dopamine, causing you to feel pleasure. As gambling behaviour continues, your brain gets used to the level of dopamine, so you need to gamble more to get the same hit. 

What Is the Personality of a Gambler?

Research has found positive associations between problem gambling and neuroticism, openness, and introversion. The same research found problem gambling is associated with lower levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness.

Get Help Today