Gambling is a form of risk taking in which one stakes something of value, usually money, on an uncertain outcome. It is a type of recreational activity that can lead to addiction and serious personal and family problems. There is no FDA-approved medication to treat gambling disorders, but counseling can be helpful in addressing the disorder and related issues.
The majority of people who gamble do so without a problem, but about 0.4% to 2% of adults meet diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling (PG), as defined by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Those with PG are more likely to have other psychiatric disorders, including substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or panic disorder. People who engage in a high level of harmful gambling are also more likely to be in financial trouble, and there is a strong link between PG and suicide.
Compulsive gambling affects both men and women, although it tends to develop earlier in life for females and is more common among younger individuals. The gender ratio is also different for the specific types of gambling behavior; men are more likely to have a problem with strategic and face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack or poker, while women are more likely to be affected by nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as slot machines.
A person may start gambling for any number of reasons, but the primary reason is often to try to win money. The urge to gamble is often triggered by a chemical release in the brain called dopamine, which is linked to feelings of reward and pleasure. Other motives to gamble include changing one’s mood, socializing with friends, or escaping boredom.
Regardless of the motivation, there are healthy ways to cope with the urge to gamble. In addition to therapy, which can help someone recognize the specific triggers for gambling and learn more effective coping skills, other treatments can include a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous; attending family therapy or marriage counseling; or finding other activities that take up your time.
The biggest step to recovery from harmful gambling is acknowledging that you have a problem and are willing to seek treatment. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve lost significant amounts of money and have strained or broken relationships as a result of your gambling. However, many people have overcome the urge to gamble and are rebuilding their lives. There are a variety of treatment options for overcoming gambling, including inpatient or residential programs and support groups. Some people have even been successful by combining therapy with medication. There are also a number of other treatment approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and physical exercise, that have been shown to be beneficial for those struggling with a gambling disorder. In addition to these, counseling can also be useful for addressing the family and relationship issues caused by the gambling disorder, such as marital therapy, debt counseling, or career counseling.