Many people can enjoy gambling recreationally and without becoming hooked. These individuals are referred to as social gamblers. They place bets and are happy when they win, but they also know their spending limits and don’t let gambling interfere with their work, education, or relationships. Others are not so fortunate and have a hard time controlling their urges to gamble. They may be unable to stop even when they lose. Their behavior can become dangerous and they can be deemed compulsive or addictive. Compulsive gambling is recognized as an impulse control disorder and is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).
Gambling is a highly addictive activity because it activates the brain’s reward center. Humans are biologically wired to seek rewards, whether it’s the satisfaction of a good meal or the happiness derived from time spent with loved ones. When the body experiences these rewards, it releases a chemical called dopamine that makes us feel good. However, when we engage in harmful activities such as drug and alcohol abuse or gambling, the dopamine produced is lessened, causing negative effects on psychological health.
There are a number of ways that individuals can get help for their problem gambling habits, including psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy can be useful for helping individuals identify and change unhealthy thought patterns that lead to compulsive gambling. Examples of these include the illusion of control, irrational beliefs, and the gambler’s fallacy. Additionally, therapy can help individuals learn new coping skills that will replace the compulsion to gamble.
While some researchers have attempted to study the impact of gambling, most focus on economic costs or benefits, which are fairly easy to quantify. These studies do not look at the impact of gambling on social well-being, which is a key consideration for those suffering from gambling addiction.
The good news is that there are now many resources available to those with a gambling addiction. Individuals can use online screening tools to determine if they have a gambling problem and, if necessary, seek professional evaluation. A trained clinical professional will conduct a thorough assessment of an individual’s situation and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
In addition to seeking professional help, it’s important for individuals to build a support network and surround themselves with positive people. Those with gambling addictions often experience depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. Having friends and family members who will encourage them to stay strong can make all the difference.
Those with financial problems related to their gambling behavior can contact the National Council on Problem Gambling for a list of local support groups. They can also seek bankruptcy protection. However, this should be considered a last resort because bankruptcy will negatively affect a person’s credit rating for seven to 10 years. In addition, a person who files for bankruptcy will still be responsible for any debts that they incurred before they filed. It’s also a good idea to consider re-mortgaging a home or limiting access to joint accounts to ensure that the money does not disappear.