Gambling is the wagering of something of value, such as money or a prize item, on an event with an uncertain outcome. It may involve a game of chance, skill, or other factors and can occur at casinos, racetracks, or online. The act of gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system, leading to addiction. Compulsive gambling, also known as gambling disorder, is an impulse control problem that can cause problems with family and work.
Many people associate gambling with casino settings, but the activity can occur anywhere. People gamble in restaurants, bars, churches, gas stations, and even on the Internet. Some people who gamble are compelled to do so to relieve stress or boredom, while others do it for the excitement of the potential winnings.
The comorbidity between pathological gambling (PG) and substance abuse disorders has led to the recent proposal of reclassification in the upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to include PG under the category of Addiction. This reclassification will encourage screening for the disorder, promote awareness of the issue, and stimulate research into effective treatment options.
Some researchers have compared impulsive behaviors such as pathological gambling and substance abuse using behavioral, psychometric, and neuroimaging measures, finding similar features in the reward systems of these individuals. These findings, combined with the high comorbidity between PG and substance abuse disorders, have supported the idea that these behaviors share some biological roots.
It is important to recognize and address any underlying issues that have created conditions for gambling, such as depression or other mood disorders. These must be addressed before a person can fully recover from this disorder. There are a number of different treatment options available to help people who struggle with these conditions, such as individual therapy, family counseling, marriage and relationship counseling, and credit counseling.
In addition to seeking therapy, family members should take steps to protect their finances and their loved one’s financial resources by limiting access to bank and credit card accounts. They should also seek professional help to determine the extent of their loved one’s gambling disorder and intervene when necessary.
In general, the most effective approach to treating gambling disorders is to seek professional help. A therapist trained in the assessment and treatment of gambling disorders can recommend appropriate treatments and interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, group therapy, aversion therapy, and medications. Depending on the severity of the disorder, some people also benefit from the support of a peer recovery program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. Other supports for recovering from gambling disorders can include family, friends, and nongambling social activities such as joining a book club or sports team or enrolling in an education class. It’s also helpful to learn how to cope with unpleasant emotions in healthier ways, such as exercising, spending time with nongambling friends, or practicing relaxation techniques.