Gambling is a global activity in which participants bet money or items of value on the outcome of an event. The game can take many forms, including games of chance such as bingo, horse racing, slot machines and dice, as well as skill-based games such as poker and blackjack. It is a major source of income for governments, and legalized in many countries. However, it is estimated that as many as 20 million Americans suffer from gambling addictions, causing significant distress and problems in their lives.
People are often able to control their gambling, but when the behavior becomes problematic, it can be very difficult to stop. Problem gambling can have serious consequences and can interfere with personal relationships, work and education. Many of those with a gambling disorder have difficulty finding employment and are at risk for eviction and other financial problems.
Several factors contribute to the development of gambling disorder, such as genetics and environmental stressors. Psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety can also contribute to the development of gambling disorder. In addition, it has been found that people with low incomes are more vulnerable to develop gambling disorders.
Research suggests that gambling may be triggered by a reward-based system in the brain. When a person wins, their body produces dopamine, a chemical that makes them feel good. However, over time, the brain can become desensitized to dopamine and needs more of it to produce the same effect. This may be why it is so difficult for some people to recognize when they are about to lose.
While there are no medications approved by the FDA to treat gambling disorders, some psychotherapies can be effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, can teach a person to challenge irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a string of losses or a close call—like two out of three cherries on a slot machine—will eventually lead to a big win.
Supportive family members and peers are important in helping people to overcome a gambling problem. They can provide emotional and social support, and encourage a person to find other ways to enjoy their free time. They can also help them set limits on how much they gamble and what types of gambling activities they engage in.
While it may be tempting to rationalize a loved one’s requests for “just this once,” reaching out for help is the best way to cope with the situation. Counseling can help individuals understand their gambling behaviors and think about other options for coping with them, and groups like Gamblers Anonymous can provide peer support. In addition, physical activity can help reduce gambling urges. Lastly, it is important to set boundaries on managing family finances in order to prevent a gambler from spending money they don’t have. This can be especially important for people with coexisting mental health disorders.