Gambling Addiction

Gambling is putting something of value at risk on an uncertain outcome. It involves an element of chance as well as skill, such as card-playing strategies or horse-racing skills that may improve your odds. For most people, gambling is an enjoyable pastime, but for some it can become compulsive and even interfere with their work and relationships.

Problem gambling often begins in childhood, but can affect anyone of any age or gender. It can cause depression and anxiety, damage relationships, affect job performance or result in significant debt. It can also lead to suicide. Many people find relief from stress by gambling and may develop a dependency on the feeling of excitement they get when they win. Others may feel they have a responsibility to gamble as part of their culture, family or society.

For many people who have a gambling problem, it is difficult to recognise that they have a problem. They may continue to gamble, even when it causes them distress and loss. They may hide their gambling activities from friends and family or lie about how much they gamble. Problem gamblers are often secretive and conceal their behaviour because they are ashamed or think others will not understand. They often try to ‘win back’ their losses by gambling more, but this only makes the situation worse.

The good news is that there are effective treatments for gambling addiction and other impulse control disorders, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of treatment teaches people to challenge irrational beliefs and habits. For example, a person might be taught that it is not true that a string of losses or a near miss signals an imminent win.

Another factor that can make a person more vulnerable to gambling problems is genetic predispositions, such as an underactive brain reward system. Other factors that can trigger or make gambling more problematic include stress, depression and a lack of social support.

In the past, the psychiatric community has not classified pathological gambling as an addiction, but that changed this year when the American Psychiatric Association moved it into the same category as other impulsive disorders such as kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting fires).

There are many reasons why someone might begin to gamble problematically, including boredom, financial problems, depression, grief or just not wanting to think about their problems. Some people may be triggered by particular situations or places, such as a twinkly casino or a noisy racetrack. They might be influenced by media portrayals of gambling as glamorous and fun, or they may seek thrills because they are influenced by genes for impulsiveness and the need to feel rewarded. Gambling can also be used as a way to avoid dealing with painful emotional issues or as an escape from the pressures of daily life, but it can be harmful in both the long and short term. Seeking help can be difficult, especially for people who live in communities where gambling is considered a normal pastime.