Gambling involves staking something of value (money, property or possessions) for the chance of winning a prize. It can take many forms, from lottery games and casino gambling to sports betting and horse races. The amount of money that is legally wagered each year on gambling activities is estimated to be $10 trillion. It can be found in casinos and racetracks, but also at gas stations, church halls and on the Internet.
People gamble for a variety of reasons, including enjoyment, socializing, and escaping boredom or stress. However, for some people, gambling can become a serious problem that causes family, health and financial problems. For some, it can even lead to addiction. A large percentage of those with gambling disorders do not seek treatment. The good news is that effective treatments are available.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a behavioral disorder characterized by compulsive and recurrent gambling behavior that is not under the control of the individual. PG is a complex and chronic illness that can have profound, negative effects on all areas of the gambler’s life. It usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood, but may begin later in life as well. It is a leading cause of preventable morbidity and death among all mental health disorders.
Approximately 20 percent of Americans have a gambling disorder. These individuals exhibit a range of symptoms, from those that put them at risk for developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for pathological gambling (PG). In addition, they are not under the control of their own behavior, but continue to engage in impulsive, harmful gambling behaviors despite significant negative consequences.
In some cases, a person’s problem with gambling may be caused by an underlying mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. If this is the case, a person should seek medical care and treatment for the mood disorder before trying to manage their gambling disorder.
In some cases, counseling may help a person overcome their gambling addiction. During therapy, a person can learn to identify the triggers of their urge to gamble and practice healthier ways of relieving boredom or stress. It is also helpful to find new interests and spend time with friends who do not gamble. Finally, a person can consider joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. Medications are not typically used to treat gambling disorders, but in some cases, they can be helpful in reducing a person’s anxiety and depression. Often, they are combined with other therapies.