Gambling is the wagering of something of value (typically money) on an event with a significant chance of losing it, for the prospect of winning something of greater value. It can include games such as poker, blackjack, roulette, slot machines, instant scratch tickets, bingo, sports betting and races. The term disordered gambling has been used to describe a range of gambling behaviors, from those that place individuals at risk of developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those that would meet diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition for pathological gambling (PG).
Most people can walk away from a game of cards or a spin on a slot machine, enjoying the adrenaline rush of the gambler’s high while recognizing that their luck ran out. But for those who struggle with compulsive gambling, the desire to win can overcome rational thinking. A number of factors can contribute to this, including a lack of prefrontal cortex activation, the development of a ‘tolerance’ to the rewarding chemicals produced during gambling, and the impact of peer pressure.
It is also possible to develop a gambling problem when the person is prone to depression or has other untreated mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because these conditions can cause individuals to react differently to their losses and wins, making them more vulnerable to becoming addicted to gambling. People can also become addicted to gambling when they are under the influence of family members or friends who have a gambling problem, and this is especially common in children and adolescents.
There is no medication currently available to help treat a gambling disorder, but psychotherapy can be a helpful treatment. Psychotherapy is a general term for a variety of techniques that aim to change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and is done with a trained, licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. Some of these treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy.
The best thing to do is to only ever gamble with money you can afford to lose and to never gamble with money that you need to save for other things, such as rent or bills. It’s also worth setting time and money limits in advance, so that you know when to stop, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. And finally, avoid chasing your losses as the more you try to make up for your loss, the more likely you are to end up in even bigger debts.
In addition to these tips, it’s important to get enough sleep and exercise to stay healthy. This will help reduce your stress levels, which can make you more impulsive when gambling and lead to poorer decisions. It’s also a good idea to spend some time doing activities you enjoy outside of gambling, as this can help give you perspective and prevent you from getting stuck in a vicious cycle.