Gambling is a form of risky behavior in which you stake something of value – such as money, goods or services – on the outcome of an event involving chance. You can gamble by placing a bet on the results of a sports game, playing a casino game or using scratchcards. Whether you’re winning or losing, gambling can be addictive and lead to serious problems. If you have a gambling problem, it’s important to seek help. Depending on how severe it is, you might need inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation.
In the past, people viewed gambling as a fun and exciting activity, but now many view it as a serious problem. Approximately 4% of Americans are classified as pathological gamblers, according to the DSM-5, and more than 10% have an underlying gambling disorder. In addition to the high comorbidity with other mental health conditions, pathological gambling is associated with a number of negative effects on a person’s life. These include:
A psychiatric diagnosis of pathological gambling is based on several characteristics and symptoms. It can be characterized by:
Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling; a high level of concern about the extent of your gambling problem; significant losses (e.g., a year’s income or an entire life savings); lying to family members, therapists or other professionals about your gambling behavior; lying to others to conceal or cover up gambling losses; stealing to fund gambling; and/or jeopardizing personal safety or relationships in order to engage in gambling. The DSM-5 also requires that your problem gambling significantly interferes with your ability to function in social or work-related activities, and causes distress or other significant problems in your daily life.
Behavioral therapy can be helpful in treating a gambling disorder. One type of therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you learn to think differently about betting. For example, people with a gambling problem often believe that they are more likely to win than they really are, that certain rituals will bring them luck and that they can get back any losses by betting more. CBT can help you change these beliefs and develop healthier ways to manage your emotions.
Research is ongoing to find better treatments for gambling disorders. Some studies have used longitudinal data, tracking a group of respondents over time, in order to understand the onset and maintenance of problem gambling behaviours. Other research uses experiments to test different therapeutic techniques and to identify specific conditions that may lead to gambling addiction.
If you have a gambling problem, it’s a good idea to strengthen your support network and seek out new hobbies and activities. Try taking up a sport or book club, or getting involved in community service. You can also join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.