Gambling involves risking something of value (money, property or other items) on an uncertain outcome. It can occur in a variety of settings, including casinos, racetracks, lottery shops, video gambling machines and online. People with a gambling disorder may have trouble controlling their behavior or may spend money they don’t have in order to gamble, even when the behavior is harmful to their physical or mental health, education, career, family and personal relationships. The disorder can also cause financial problems, including bankruptcy and other debts.
Behavioral treatment for gambling disorders can help people identify and change unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors that contribute to the problem. In addition, the disorder can be exacerbated by coexisting mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety. These conditions can also be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.
Many people have difficulty recognizing that they may have a gambling disorder. This is because the disorder is not always accompanied by obvious signs and symptoms, such as frequent or intense urges to gamble or increased bet size. Additionally, people with a gambling disorder often conceal their problem by hiding their behavior or lying to others about it.
It’s important to seek help for a gambling disorder as soon as possible because it can have serious and lasting consequences on an individual’s life. Those with a gambling disorder should see a mental health professional or support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous. The professional or group can provide help, encouragement and guidance to stop the behavior.
While the disorder is sometimes thought of as a type of addiction, there is no empirical evidence that gambling is more addictive than other forms of recreation. Moreover, the disorder does not necessarily lead to substance abuse, and people with a gambling disorder may experience symptoms that are more like those of depression or other mood disorders than the signs of addiction.
In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), gambling disorder has been moved from a category on impulse control disorders to a category on behavioral addictions. The move reflects research that shows that gambling disorder shares similar features with substance abuse and dependence in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, physiology and treatment.
While there are no FDA-approved medications for gambling disorder, there are a number of psychotherapies that can be used to treat the condition. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, which empowers the individual to solve their uncertainty about making healthy changes. In addition, family counseling can help the individuals in the person’s support network understand the problem and create a supportive environment. People with a gambling disorder should also seek out help to manage stress and find other activities to do with their time. They can try to distract themselves by reading, exercising, spending time with friends and/or finding other hobbies that are not related to gambling. If the person is unable to stop gambling, they should consider inpatient or residential treatment programs.