Gambling is a habit that can affect all aspects of a person’s life, from work and family to finances and personal relationships. It is a popular pastime that many people enjoy and can be fun, but it also poses risks for those who engage in it frequently. People can become addicted to gambling just like they can get hooked on drugs, and it is important to know the signs of gambling addiction.
People who gamble typically stake something valuable, such as money or property, on the outcome of a game of chance or skill with the potential for a prize win. They may play at casinos, racetracks, or online, but they can also place bets on sports events and television shows, buy lottery tickets, or play scratchcard games. A gambling addiction can occur in any age group and is often more common in men than in women. A person with a gambling addiction may have difficulty controlling their behavior even when it is causing them serious problems, such as debt, relationship difficulties, or loss of employment or education.
Researchers use the term disordered gambling to describe a range of behavior, from those who are at risk for developing a problem (subclinical) to those whose behaviors would meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) criteria for pathological gambling (PG). It is estimated that 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet the PG diagnosis. Those with a PG diagnosis often start gambling in adolescence or early adulthood, and it tends to develop into a problem several years later. Those with a PG diagnosis are more likely to experience it in strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as card games and table games, than in nonstrategic or less interpersonally interactive forms, such as slot machines or bingo.
For those who are struggling with a gambling addiction, treatment can be effective. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that can help change the way a person thinks about betting. It can address false beliefs about how much a person is likely to win or lose, rituals that are believed to bring luck, and the thought that one’s losses can be made up by betting more.
Another type of treatment is group support. For example, people who struggle with a gambling addiction can join a program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and offers peer support and guidance. People who have a loved one with a gambling addiction can also benefit from group support and find help in overcoming their own struggles.
It is crucial to realize that a gambling addiction can affect all aspects of a person’s daily life. It can be hard to overcome, especially since there is a great deal of social acceptance for gambling and it is so accessible, whether at casinos, online, or on the TV or radio. But the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem, and then taking steps to seek treatment.