Gambling Disorders

Gambling is risking money or other assets in an activity with a random outcome, such as buying a lottery ticket or betting on a horse race. It can also include activities that require skill, such as playing card games or sports betting, although the odds of winning are still largely determined by chance. People can gamble in casinos, racetracks, online and at many other types of events.

Whether or not a person is gambling, certain behaviors can indicate a problem. For example, a person may lie to family members or therapists about how much they spend on gambling; hide or attempt to conceal illegal acts, such as theft and embezzlement, in order to fund their gambling; or continue gambling even when it negatively affects relationships, finances, work or education (American Psychiatric Association 2000). A person with a gambling disorder may also have coexisting mental health conditions that contribute to the disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

While some people have an innate predisposition for thrill-seeking behavior and impulsivity, environmental factors can also play a role. Research suggests that some people have differences in brain circuitry that influences how they process reward information and control impulses. Moreover, some cultural and familial beliefs about gambling can make it difficult to recognize a gambling disorder when it occurs.

Most adults and adolescents in the United States have placed some kind of bet, usually without a problem. However, a small percentage of those who begin to gamble develop a gambling disorder, which is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as compulsive or pathological gambling.

Many things can lead to a gambling disorder, including childhood trauma, genetics and other biological traits, social and family environment, and mental illness or substance abuse problems. A person with a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, is more likely to develop a gambling problem. People who are depressed or anxious often have difficulty controlling their emotions, and therefore find it more difficult to stop gambling.

The most effective treatment for a gambling disorder is psychotherapy, which involves talking with a trained mental health professional about unhealthy emotions and behaviors. There are several different kinds of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps a person change negative thinking patterns, and individual or group therapy. Group therapy can help a person feel supported and motivated to change, and individual psychotherapy can focus on an area of concern such as stress or self-esteem.

To stay safe while gambling, it is important to set a budget for how much you can afford to lose and stick to it. Never chase your losses by thinking that you are due for a big win or can recoup your lost money; this is called the gambler’s fallacy. It is also helpful to avoid free cocktails, because they can increase your impulsivity and lead to reckless gambling habits. Finally, it is essential to set aside time for other enjoyable activities, and to take care of yourself and your physical health by exercising and eating well.