Gambling involves risking something of value for a chance to win a prize. It is an activity that takes place in a variety of places, including casinos, racetracks, and online. Some people gamble for the excitement of winning, but others may do it to alleviate stress, socialize with friends, or try to escape from boredom. Regardless of the reason, gambling can lead to serious consequences if it becomes a problem.
The term “disordered gambling” is used to describe a range of problematic behaviors, from those that are merely at risk of developing pathological gambling (subclinical) to those that meet criteria for pathological gambling in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Individuals who engage in disordered gambling are at increased risk of serious psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety, and they often attempt to hide their behavior.
A major challenge of gambling research is understanding why people become addicted to this activity and how to develop effective treatments for it. Many of the theories that have been proposed to explain this phenomenon fall into two broad categories: cognitive and behavioral. Cognitive approaches focus on the role of cognition in predicting gambling behavior, while behavioral approaches focus on the role of impulse control. Both approaches have demonstrated some effectiveness, but they do not always work together.
It is important for family members of individuals with gambling disorders to know the warning signs of their addiction so that they can take action. Common signs of a gambling problem include:
Being preoccupied with thoughts about gambling. Thinking about past gambling experiences, predicting future results, or planning how to spend money on gambling activities. Continuing to gamble even when the person has lost significant amounts of money (chasing losses). Deliberately hiding or lying about the extent of his or her involvement in gambling. jeopardizing a job, relationship, educational or career opportunity, or financial security to gamble.
Some of the most important factors in preventing gambling addiction are creating supportive environments and strengthening support networks. It is also helpful to learn healthier ways of coping with unpleasant feelings and relieving boredom. For example, rather than turning to gambling, people can try exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.
The first step to breaking a gambling habit is admitting that you have a problem. This can be hard to do, especially if you have lost money or suffered strained relationships as a result of your gambling. But it is important to remember that you are not alone; many other people have struggled with gambling addiction and have overcome it. It is also helpful to seek out a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.