Gambling is the betting of something of value, often money, on an event with an uncertain outcome. It includes all forms of game of chance, including casino games and lotteries, as well as other activities such as sports betting and peer-to-peer wagering on equal chances events through betting exchanges. The term also applies to the staking of money or other items of value in contests where skill and knowledge may play a part, such as in horse races and stock market trading.
While most people who gamble do so without any problems, a subset develops gambling disorder, which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) as an obsession with or compulsive behavior related to gambling. People with gambling disorders lose control of their spending, experience financial problems, and jeopardize relationships, employment, and/or education. They may lie to family members, therapists, and employers to conceal their problem, and they may use illegal acts such as embezzlement, forgery, or theft in order to fund their gambling.
A gambling disorder may be triggered by genetic predisposition, environment, or both. It can occur in all ages and is more prevalent in men and in low income individuals. Repeated exposure to gambling and uncertainty causes lasting changes in the brain’s reward pathways, similar to those associated with addiction to drugs of abuse, increasing cravings for risk-taking behaviors such as gambling.
There are many steps involved in overcoming a gambling disorder, beginning with acknowledging that there is a problem. Some people find success by getting help from a counselor or support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Others use medication, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling can also be helpful.
In addition to therapy, some people with serious gambling problems may benefit from inpatient or residential treatment or rehabilitation programs that provide round-the-clock monitoring and support. Others can reduce their risks by limiting their exposure to gambling venues, eliminating credit cards and other accounts that can be used for gambling, having someone else manage their finances, and closing their online gambling accounts. Finally, learning healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings and relieve boredom can help people replace gambling as a way to self-soothe. Changing these habits takes time and effort, but it is worth the fight to get back control of one’s life. Thousands of people have overcome gambling disorders, and they can help you too.