Gambling involves placing something of value (money, goods or services) on an event whose outcome is determined at least partly by chance. People often gamble for fun, but when gambling becomes a serious problem, it can cause harm to individuals and their families. People may not realize they have a gambling problem, or they may try to hide their addiction from family and friends. Whether it’s playing slots or betting on the next big race, people with a gambling problem are at risk for a number of issues, including financial crisis, bankruptcy, legal problems and depression.
When most people think of gambling, they imagine slot machines and casino games. But there are many other forms of gambling. Playing bingo, buying lottery or scratch-off tickets, and even placing bets on office pools can be considered gambling, too. In addition, some people who have a gambling problem may spend money they don’t have to buy drugs or alcohol.
While there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat gambling disorder, psychotherapy—a type of talk therapy—can help. Psychotherapy can help people identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It can also teach people healthier ways to manage stress, find other ways to have fun and socialize, and address any other mental health conditions that may be contributing to their gambling problems.
Some studies show that people with a gambling disorder are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behavior and impulsivity, and they may have underactive brain reward systems. Other factors that can contribute to a gambling disorder include personality traits, a history of trauma or other mental health conditions, and cultural influences. For example, some communities consider gambling to be a traditional pastime and may have difficulty recognizing the need for treatment.
In the past, the psychiatric community generally viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but in a landmark decision in May, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling to the Addictions chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This new classification reflects a growing understanding that pathological gambling is a true form of addiction.
Changing a gambling habit takes tremendous strength and courage, especially when it means admitting that you have a problem. But it’s important to know that you don’t have to do this alone. There are many resources available to help you break your gambling addiction, including support groups and treatment programs.
If you’re struggling with a gambling problem, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or a therapist through the world’s largest online therapy service. You can be matched with a professional, licensed, and vetted therapist in as little as 48 hours. Start your recovery journey today. We’re here for you.