Gambling involves risking something of value, usually money, on an event with some element of chance or uncertainty. It can be done through games of chance, such as cards, dice and lottery tickets; through sports events, including horse racing and dog races; or through certain types of social activities, such as online gambling.
When a person gambles, the brain is stimulated and releases a chemical called dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure. Over time, this can create a cycle, where the person seeks out gambling to feel good and may become addicted. This can have serious consequences, such as losing control of finances and jeopardizing relationships. Gambling can also interfere with work, school and social life.
Mental health professionals have developed criteria that help to identify gambling disorder. These are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose psychological problems. The DSM includes criteria such as: Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement; lying to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of one’s involvement in gambling; relying on other people to finance or replace lost gambling money; and making repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut down or stop gambling.
Several different treatment approaches have been used to treat gambling disorders. Behavioral therapy can help a person change unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors related to gambling. This type of therapy often takes place with a trained psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker.
Research is ongoing to develop better ways to treat gambling addiction. Some studies show that a combination of therapies is most effective, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy. Other treatments include hypnotherapy and self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is a 12-step recovery program based on Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you or a loved one is suffering from gambling addiction, don’t try to fight it alone. Seek professional help as soon as possible. Talking about the problem with a trusted friend or counselor can help to ease feelings of isolation and shame. You can find support groups for people with gambling addictions through national charities, support services or churches. You can also seek help for any other mental health conditions that are contributing to the addiction, such as depression, stress or substance abuse. You can also get financial and credit counseling to help you regain control of your finances.