Gambling is the act of betting something of value, such as money or possessions, on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. The event can be a game of chance or skill, such as playing a card game or shooting a basketball into a basket. It can also be a random event, such as the outcome of a lottery drawing or the result of a sporting event. Gambling is considered an addictive behavior when the gambler consistently experiences a loss of control over their gambling activity.
A person with a gambling addiction is unable to stop gambling despite the harms caused to themselves and others. As with other addictive behaviors, the root causes of problem gambling are complex and can vary by individual. But working in the field of addiction treatment, I’ve learned some common features that help explain why this behaviour is so hard to stop.
For most people, gambling is a form of entertainment, similar to going to the cinema or dinner at a restaurant. But the problem occurs when a gambler starts to lose control and spends more than they can afford. It is important to only ever gamble with disposable income and not with money that needs to be used for bills or other necessities. It is also a good idea to set time limits for how long you want to gamble and leave when you reach it, even if you are losing.
Besides being a source of entertainment, gambling can also be a way to escape from stressful events and provide a temporary sense of pleasure or excitement. This is because gambling often triggers a dopamine response in the brain, a response that’s similar to the one created when someone succeeds at a task or challenge. This is why it’s important to learn how to deal with stress in a healthy manner and find other ways to enjoy your free time.
While these reasons may sound harmless, they are often just a cover for more dangerous motives. People who engage in compulsive gambling can be driven by financial issues, the desire for a quick thrill, or a need to meet other emotional needs, such as the need for status and belonging. In fact, casinos are designed to foster feelings of status and specialness.
Unlike some substances, which can be harmful to mental health when misused, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorder. However, psychotherapy, which is a broad term for different types of treatments, can help people understand the nature of their gambling disorder and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviours. Psychotherapy can be offered individually or in groups, and it can be delivered by trained mental health professionals, such as psychologists or clinical social workers. There are several types of psychotherapy for problem gambling, and most involve some form of cognitive-behavioural therapy. These techniques are based on the theory that changing a person’s thinking can lead to healthier behaviors.