While most people think of gambling as being done in casinos, or betting on horses and sports events, it can take many forms. Playing bingo, buying lottery tickets, and even placing bets on office pools can all be considered forms of gambling. Depending on the person, gambling can be just a harmless diversion or an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Gambling problems can strain relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster. They can also cause health issues. For some, gambling becomes a way of dealing with depression, stress, or other mood disorders.
Some researchers have argued that there are biological factors that make some people more susceptible to developing gambling problems. For example, research suggests that some people may have an underactive brain reward system, or be genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. Other studies suggest that some people have a tendency to become superstitious and see patterns in random events, like a run of three consecutive losses or two out of three cherries on a slot machine, which can lead them to place excessive bets or spend more money than they can afford.
A therapist can help someone struggling with a gambling problem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach a person to resist irrational beliefs and impulses, for example, that a streak of bad luck signifies an imminent win. Therapists can also help people develop a more balanced lifestyle and find new ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression that often trigger or worsen gambling addiction.
The most difficult step in overcoming a gambling addiction is admitting that there is a problem. For some people, this is especially hard because it means recognizing that they have lost valuable opportunities and that their addiction has ruined relationships. It can also be a challenge to recognize that there is a problem when they live in a culture that values gambling.
Fortunately, there are many treatments for gambling addiction. One option is to strengthen your support network, so that you can avoid gambling by spending time with friends who don’t gamble. Another is to enroll in an education or training program, or to volunteer. Getting involved in a sport or book club can also be a great way to meet new people. Finally, you can join a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the model of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There are a number of criteria that mental health professionals use to diagnose a gambling disorder. Some of these include: a need to gamble more and more in order to feel the same level of excitement; lying to family members or a therapist to conceal the extent of the gambling problem; chasing your losses; and jeopardizing relationships, jobs, or educational or career opportunities to gamble. Some people also develop a gambling addiction due to underlying mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It’s important to seek treatment for these conditions, even if you have successfully broken your gambling habit.