Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value on an uncertain event with the hope of gaining something in return. This activity can have a negative impact on the individual and their families. This is why the term “gambling addiction” has been coined to describe this behavior. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, you should seek help immediately.
Why People Gamble
There are a number of reasons why people gamble, including: for entertainment, to win money, to socialize with friends or to relieve boredom. The main problem is that the short term relief provided by gambling often comes at a high cost in terms of financial ruin and damaged relationships.
A key reason why gambling can become addictive is that it activates the reward pathway in the brain. This causes the brain to release dopamine when you experience a positive outcome, such as a winning hand in poker or shooting a basketball into a net. The brain is so stimulated by these events that it begins to associate gambling with these positive outcomes and tries to replicate this behavior.
This can be a vicious circle, because the more you engage in gambling, the more likely you are to lose. Eventually, the losses outweigh the wins and you will begin to see the activity as more of a loss than an opportunity for enjoyment. There are also a number of behavioral factors that increase the risk of gambling addiction, including: a history of prior gambling addiction, early big wins, boredom susceptibility, impulsivity, a poor understanding of random events, use of escape coping and stressful life experiences.
If you are struggling with gambling addiction, there are steps you can take to stop. Start by assessing your situation. Identify the triggers that cause you to gamble and find healthier ways to cope with boredom or unpleasant emotions. For example, instead of going to the casino or buying a lottery ticket, try exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, taking up a new hobby or practicing relaxation techniques.
The next step is to establish a budget and set limits for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to gamble on credit and do not borrow money to fund your gambling activities. Set a specific time limit for your gambling and leave when you reach that limit, regardless of whether you are winning or losing. Make it a rule to not gamble when you are depressed or upset. Also, avoid chasing your losses, as the more you try to recoup lost money, the more you are likely to lose in the long run.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve any medications to treat gambling disorder, several types of psychotherapy can help you overcome your addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of treatment that teaches you to recognize and change unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Another type of psychological intervention is motivational interviewing, which involves talking with a mental health professional who helps you examine your reasons for gambling and motivates you to change.