Gambling Addiction


Gambling involves betting something of value on an event with uncertain results, like a football match or a scratchcard. It can be legal or illegal, and there are many different types of gambling games, from slots to keno. Some forms of gambling are based on skill, while others are purely chance. In the US, the vast majority of gambling occurs in casinos and lotteries, which are state-regulated. The US government also regulates online gambling and offshore lotteries.

People gamble for a variety of reasons, from social and entertainment purposes to financial gain. Depending on their motivation, some people may not recognize that they have a problem. Other people may ignore warning signs, even when they are clear that their gambling is out of control. For example, a person may ignore the negative impact of their gambling on their finances or relationships.

When a person gambles, their brain releases dopamine, which gives them a feeling of pleasure. This is why it is important to seek out healthy ways to experience pleasure, such as spending time with friends or eating a nutritious meal. When a person begins to gamble excessively, however, the brain’s reward system can become overexcited, and they may feel an irresistible urge to place bets again and again.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by compulsive behavior related to gambling. Symptoms of PG can include an inability to control or limit gambling activity, difficulty controlling impulses and thinking about gambling, and repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling. Approximately 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet diagnostic criteria for PG, and it is more common in men than women. PG usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood, and it often progresses from low-level risky behaviors to pathological gambling over the course of several years.

There are many treatment options for gambling addiction, including psychotherapy and medication. Therapy can help you identify and address unhealthy behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that contribute to your gambling addiction. It can also teach you skills for coping with your urges and solving the financial, work, and relationship problems caused by your gambling behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective in treating gambling addiction.

If you suspect that a loved one has a gambling addiction, speak up sooner rather than later. Encourage them to seek treatment by calling a hotline, talking with a healthcare professional or mental health professional, or joining Gamblers Anonymous. Also, try to avoid judgmental language and practice empathy: listen thoughtfully to them, and be a source of support. The more they feel supported, the more likely they are to get help. Ultimately, there is no single conversation or action that will cure someone of gambling addiction, but the earlier they receive treatment, the better. For those who need more intensive and long-term care, inpatient or residential treatment programs can be helpful. These programs provide round-the-clock support for those struggling with severe gambling disorders. Some may be covered by insurance, so check your policy for details.