Gambling is an activity where people stake money or something of value (including time, effort and energy) in a game with the potential for a prize win. It can be as simple as buying a lottery ticket or as complex as betting on sports events and horse races. While gambling is a popular pastime that can bring enjoyment and excitement, it can also lead to problems for some individuals. This can include harming relationships, health, work and study performance, and leaving them in debt or even homeless. It can also be expensive, with people spending up to
Problem gambling is a type of compulsive behaviour where an individual experiences difficulty controlling their gambling. This can include, but is not limited to: a preoccupation with gambling; difficulty controlling the amount of time spent gambling; lying to family, friends or therapists to conceal the extent of their involvement in gambling; attempting to regain lost money through continued betting (chasing losses); engaging in illegal acts to finance gambling; jeopardizing job opportunities; and relying on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a form of gambling that causes significant distress and interferes with daily functioning. It is a progressive disorder that develops over time and affects both men and women equally. It can start in adolescence and is more common in younger adults. In the past, psychiatric experts considered it an impulse control disorder, similar to other impulsive disorders such as kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting things on fire). However, in what many consider to be a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association has recently moved PG into the addictions chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Research has shown that cognitive-behaviour therapy can help treat gambling addiction. In this approach, a person learns to identify and confront irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a small loss (e.g. two out of three cherries on a slot machine) is a sign that they will soon win. They also learn new coping skills, such as how to resist the urge to gamble when faced with a financial emergency.
If you are struggling with a gambling addiction, there are support groups that can help you manage your situation. These can include online forums, telephone and face-to-face support services, and peer-led recovery programs such as Gamblers Anonymous. You can also seek professional help, such as family therapy or marriage, career and credit counseling, which can address the specific issues that have caused harm and can lay the foundations for a healthy lifestyle free of gambling. It is important to get help for any underlying mood disorders too, as they can trigger or be made worse by gambling. This may mean seeking treatment for depression or another substance use disorder. It is also important to find new hobbies and social activities that don’t involve gambling. You can try taking up a new sport, trying out a book club, volunteering for a charity or joining a community group.