Gambling is putting something of value, such as money, on a random event with the hope of winning something else of value. People gamble for many reasons – to win money, socialize with friends or as an escape from stress and worries. However, for some people gambling can become a serious problem. If you have a gambling problem, it is important to get help as soon as possible. There are many treatment options available.
Gambling can take many forms and is a major international commercial activity. Almost any event can be considered a form of gambling, from the flip of a coin to the outcome of a sports match. It can also be done with materials that have a monetary value but do not actually represent real money, such as marbles or cards in games like poker or Magic: The Gathering.
Psychiatrically, the term disordered gambling is used to refer to the entire spectrum of behavior from those who are at risk for developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those who meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling (PG). Pathological gambling is one of the most common impulse control disorders. It is highly comorbid with substance abuse and other mental health disorders.
The brain’s reward center is stimulated when people gamble, causing feelings of euphoria. This is why it is often hard to quit gambling. People who have difficulty quitting can be helped by identifying the specific triggers that cause them to gamble. They may also benefit from a variety of treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to resist unwanted thoughts and habits. These techniques can help them confront irrational beliefs such as the belief that a streak of bad luck is just about to turn around.
A major challenge in evaluating the effectiveness of treatment for gambling disorders is the lack of longitudinal studies. Longitudinal research is difficult to conduct because it is expensive and time consuming. Other challenges include the difficulty of maintaining study teams for a long period of time, the potential for sample attrition and the knowledge that the results from different periods may be different.
Despite the limitations of longitudinal research, it is important for psychiatry to develop evidence-based practices for treating gambling disorders. This will require greater awareness of problem gambling and screening for the disorder, along with education about effective treatment options.
It is also important for family members and friends to seek help for themselves when dealing with a loved one with a gambling disorder. They can find support by joining a gambling support group or talking to a mental health professional. They can also set boundaries regarding money management and ensure that their own finances are not at risk by arranging debt advice from StepChange. They can also use a range of other therapies, such as family therapy and marriage, career and credit counseling, to work through the issues that have been created by the gambling problem and lay the foundation for recovery.