Gambling is the act of placing a bet on an event with an uncertain outcome. It may involve betting on sports events, a lottery ticket, a horse race, a card game, or even a game of chance with dice or a slot machine. People gamble for many reasons, including the desire to win money or to socialize with friends. However, gambling can be dangerous if it becomes an addiction. Addiction is a complex psychological condition that can affect any person of any age or gender, but it is more common among those with mental illness or family history of substance abuse. Fortunately, treatment is available.
The risk of addiction to gambling is increased when it occurs with other risk-taking activities, such as drug and alcohol use, or a history of trauma or other life stressors. Biological factors such as an underactive brain reward system, genetic predisposition toward thrill-seeking behaviors, and impulsivity can also contribute to harmful gambling behavior. Research on the brain’s decision-making processes is ongoing and suggests that differences in how individuals process rewards, control impulses, and weigh risks can play a role in gambling disorder.
People who suffer from pathological gambling (PG) have a persistent, recurrent pattern of maladaptive behaviors involving gambling. PG typically starts in adolescence or early adulthood and can lead to serious problems, such as debt, legal issues, and relationship difficulties. The symptoms of PG are similar to those of other types of addictions: (1) lying to family members, therapists, or employers about the extent of involvement in gambling; (2) avoiding gambling-related conversations, activities, and obligations; (3) hiding or throwing away gambling materials; and (4) making multiple attempts to recover from a loss (“chasing” losses).
Many people who enjoy gambling say they do so because it is fun and can be a social activity. Some also say they can improve their mood, relieve boredom, or help them to relax. But there are many healthier ways to do these things than gambling. Try exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or trying new hobbies.
The first step in overcoming a problem with gambling is acknowledging that there is one. It can take tremendous strength and courage to admit that you have a gambling problem, especially if it has cost you a lot of money and strained or damaged relationships. But there is hope for recovery, and counseling can be an important part of it. To get started, find a therapist near you and book a session online or over the phone. Whether you want to talk about your gambling problem or just need some support, therapy is an option that is completely free and confidential. You can be matched with a therapist in less than 48 hours. No waiting rooms necessary! Start your search today.