Gambling is a game in which you stake something that has value – such as money or items of a collectible nature – on the outcome of an event, such as a sporting event, lottery or board game. It’s a widespread activity that occurs in many places, including casinos and racetracks, gas stations, church halls, and even online. The stakes may be small (such as a dollar or two), but the rewards can be large if you win.
Compulsive gambling is an emerging public health problem. It affects people of all ages and is more common in men than women. It also tends to run in families. It is important to understand why people gamble so we can develop effective prevention and treatment strategies.
Research into the underlying causes of pathological gambling remains limited and inconsistent, partly because of differences in how the disorder is defined and assessed, as well as the challenges of conducting longitudinal studies. Such studies can provide important insights into etiology and help to inform the development of new treatments for this condition.
Generally, people gamble for four reasons: for social reasons – to enjoy a casino or a racetrack with friends; for financial reasons – because they think they are due for a jackpot or they would like to improve their lifestyle by winning a big sum of money; for emotional reasons – because they feel self-confident or more confident, or because they are trying to escape from depression or other distressing emotions. It is worth remembering these reasons when talking to a loved one who has a gambling addiction, as they can give you insight into what motivates them and why their behaviour has become problematic.
People who have mental health problems, especially anxiety or depression, are more likely to be at risk from harmful gambling. It’s important to seek professional help if you have these conditions, as it can reduce your risk of gambling, and can help you deal with any triggers that prompt you to gamble. Moreover, you should address any financial issues that may be making you vulnerable to gambling. For example, if you are struggling with debt, speak to StepChange for free and confidential advice.
There are no medications available to treat gambling disorder, but psychotherapy is a useful option for helping you change unhealthy thinking and behaviors. There are several types of psychotherapy, including group therapy and family therapy. You can also use cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, such as “chasing losses.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve any medications to treat gambling disorder, but there are several psychotherapy techniques that can be helpful. These include psychodynamic therapy, which looks at how unconscious processes can affect behavior, and a combination of family and individual psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can also be used alongside other treatments, such as a structured program of financial counseling and debt relief. These programs are usually provided by nonprofit organizations, such as the Credit Counseling Service of America.