Gambling involves risking something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. It can be a fun and rewarding activity, but for some people it can become harmful or addictive. A person can be considered to have a gambling problem if they cannot control their urges, or if their gambling is causing significant problems in their lives. Traditionally, the psychiatric community has not considered gambling to be a psychiatric disorder, but this changed in May 2014 when the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling into a new category on behavioral addictions. This shift reflects the growing understanding that gambling disorders are similar to substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and treatment.
The term “gambling” encompasses a wide range of activities, including: games of chance (e.g., bingo, lottery, raffles, scratchcards) and skill-based games such as blackjack, poker, sports betting, horse racing and dice. In addition, some regulated activities such as provincial lotteries are considered to be forms of gambling.
Many people who have a gambling problem struggle with other mood or mental health disorders. Depression, stress and anxiety can all trigger gambling problems or make them worse. In addition, compulsive gambling can also be a symptom of bipolar disorder. Treatment for these underlying conditions can help to reduce problematic gambling and improve overall functioning.
Typically, when someone is struggling with gambling addiction, they will have a history of frequent and uncontrolled urges to gamble. They may also have a tendency to lie, steal or cheat to finance their habit. In some cases, a person may even jeopardize a relationship or job in order to indulge in gambling.
A diagnosis of gambling disorder is based on a series of criteria including: (1) uncontrolled or recurrent urges to gamble; (2) lying, borrowing or using illegal methods to finance gambling; (3) preoccupation with gambling, losing control of one’s finances and putting important things in jeopardy; (4) chasing losses (i.e., trying to win back lost money); and (5) gambling that causes emotional distress.
While some people are able to overcome a gambling addiction on their own, others will need professional help. The first step is to seek a therapist who specializes in treating gambling addiction. Treatment options include cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Some therapists will also offer group or family therapy. In addition, some therapists will refer clients to support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.
In addition to receiving therapy, it is important to make changes to your environment and lifestyle. This may include limiting access to gambling websites, credit cards and online betting accounts. It is also helpful to have a strong support network and engage in healthy hobbies. This can help to relieve unpleasant emotions and boredom that often lead to gambling. You may also find it beneficial to explore other ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques.