Gambling involves risking something of value in the hope of gaining something of greater value. It can stimulate the brain in the same way as drugs or alcohol, and it can cause problems like addiction. Compulsive gambling, sometimes called gambling disorder, is an uncontrollable urge to gamble that interferes with a person’s everyday functioning and causes significant distress or harm. People with compulsive gambling may lose jobs, homes, and relationships and engage in illegal activities such as theft or fraud to support their habit.
The term “gambling” can refer to many different types of activities, including playing card games for money, placing bets on sports events or other outcomes, and buying lottery tickets. Social gambling may involve playing cards or board games with friends for small amounts of money, participating in a friendly sports betting pool, or buying lottery tickets with coworkers. Professional gamblers, on the other hand, use a deep understanding of their chosen game or games and employ strategies and skill to win money over the long term.
Some research suggests that there is a link between gambling and the development of psychiatric disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse. In addition, studies show that the risk of a gambling disorder increases with age and with family history of mental illness.
While there are no FDA-approved medications for gambling disorder, psychological counseling and other behavioral treatments can help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, can teach individuals to challenge irrational beliefs and habits. This can include learning to resist the Gambler’s Fallacy, the mistaken belief that a recent loss or near miss makes it more likely to happen again in the future.
Another important aspect of treating gambling disorder is addressing the underlying issues that contribute to the problem. Counseling can provide a safe space for individuals to discuss their feelings and experiences, consider options, and solve problems. It can also address the impact of gambling on family and financial relationships, as well as provide tools to break unhealthy patterns of behavior.
The most effective treatment is often a combination of approaches, including individual and group therapy. Peer support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous can be especially helpful. In addition, many states offer gambling helplines and other assistance. Physical activity has also been shown to reduce symptoms of gambling disorder, and people struggling with a gambling addiction can find healthy ways to relieve unpleasant emotions and boredom, such as spending time with friends who do not gamble or trying new hobbies. In addition, families of people with gambling disorders can seek help through family therapy or support groups such as Gam-Anon. For severe cases, there are also residential and inpatient treatment programs. These facilities can offer medical and mental health care, as well as help with legal and financial matters. They are sometimes called gambling rehabilitation centers or rehabs. Many of these facilities are private, while some are part of the state-run public system. They typically focus on treating gambling disorder as a mental health issue and can be helpful to people who cannot stop gambling or have other underlying issues that make it difficult to quit gambling.