Gambling involves risking something of value (typically money) on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance with the hope of gaining something of greater value. It may also involve a skill-based activity in which the gambler wagers on an event that requires some degree of expertise and knowledge, such as horse racing or playing cards. Informally, it can mean a bet made between two people or groups without an agreement on specific terms for success or failure (e.g., “I’m betting you can’t do this”). Gambling can also involve placing a bet on an event that has already occurred, such as a football game or scratchcard.
The practice of gambling is widely accepted as a form of entertainment in many societies. Those who participate in gambling often engage in it for recreational reasons. However, there are a number of negative impacts associated with gambling that can impact individuals and families. These negative impacts can include financial, psychological, and emotional consequences.
Problem gambling is an addictive behavior characterized by an individual’s persistent, recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that interfere with their daily functioning. Approximately 0.4% to 1.6% of Americans meet the criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling, or PG. PG typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood and generally develops over several years. The majority of PG is caused by nonstrategic and/or less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling such as slot machines or bingo.
A variety of treatments are available to treat PG, including cognitive behavioral therapy and family-based approaches. However, research on the efficacy of these treatments is limited. Moreover, the effectiveness of these treatments is affected by an individual’s underlying beliefs and etiology of PG. The current state of knowledge of the etiology and treatment of PG is further complicated by the fact that a number of eclectic theoretic conceptualizations of PG exist in the literature.
Gambling can be a way to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as boredom or loneliness. It can also be a way to socialize with others. However, there are healthier and safer ways to relieve these unpleasant emotions, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.
Those who struggle with a gambling addiction can find relief in counseling and support groups. For example, a family therapist can help a loved one work through the issues that are causing them to gamble, such as stress or relationship problems. They can also teach the gambler healthy coping skills and set boundaries in managing their finances and credit. Additionally, a gambler can seek out peer support through a recovery program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program can help the gambler reconnect with family and friends, learn new coping and stress management strategies, and take control of their finances. The group can also help the gambler find a sponsor, a former gambler who has successfully maintained recovery.