How Winning the Lottery Can Lead to Bad Habits and Mental Illness


Many people play the lottery for a sliver of hope that they’ll win a big jackpot, and it’s an important source of funding for things like schools and roads. But this is a gamble, and most people aren’t going to win.

There’s a lot of irrational behavior around the lottery: quotes-unquote systems for choosing lucky numbers, shopping at “lucky” stores and buying only certain types of tickets. But it’s also a form of social mobility fantasy: in an age of inequality and limited job prospects, winning the lottery feels like your best or only shot at a better life.

Aside from the psychological effects, the odds of winning are pretty low. But if you do, there’s a whole host of problems that can arise. A few past winners serve as cautionary tales: a sudden windfall can lead to bad habits, addiction, even mental illness. So how can you avoid these traps? We’ll talk with experts and listen to the stories of some lottery winners.

The development of state lotteries has followed a predictable pattern, with states establishing monopolies for themselves; creating an agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing private firms in exchange for a slice of the profits); starting with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, under constant pressure to increase revenues, expanding with new games and adding bigger jackpots. The result is that most lottery officials have very little say in the overall direction of the business, and the broader interests of the public are rarely taken into account.