Gambling involves risking something of value (a bet) on an event that is at least partly determined by chance. The gambler hopes to win something of value (a reward), and the stakes can be high – from a few pennies to a life-changing jackpot. While many people think of casinos and slot machines when they hear the word gambling, gambling also encompasses a wide range of activities ranging from playing bingo to buying lottery tickets to betting on sports events.
Gambling can have significant psychological, financial, physical, and social consequences for the gambler and those around them. Problem gambling is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable, and debilitating gambling behavior that interferes with one’s daily functioning in various domains (including work or school performance, family relationships, health, and self-esteem). It can also lead to the use of illegal substances or to other harmful behaviors such as lying, cheating, or stealing.
There are a variety of ways to get help for problematic gambling. Many gambling treatment programs are based on cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people recognize the thoughts and behaviors that trigger problematic gambling and learn to control them. Other treatment methods may include medication or peer support groups. Some communities have special support services for gamblers and their families, such as gambling-specific Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or recovery programs modeled after Twelve Steps for Alcoholics Anonymous.
The scientific understanding of why some people gamble problematically is evolving. Researchers are identifying brain regions that contribute to a person’s susceptibility to gambling and the ability to control impulses, while others are exploring genetic and environmental factors that may predispose people to gamble in an addictive way. Some people may have a more underactive brain reward system, while others have a predisposition to thrill-seeking behavior or impulsivity.
While it is possible to overcome gambling problems, they often have long-term impacts on individuals and their families. The most serious forms of gambling problems are considered to be pathological, and have been classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as such. These problems can have devastating effects on a person’s emotional and psychological well-being, finances, family, work, and community.
If you have a friend or loved one who has a gambling problem, it is important to seek help as soon as you notice any of the warning signs. There are a number of steps that you can take to help the person with the problem, including setting limits on their spending and closing their online betting accounts. You can also try to strengthen your own support network, and join a peer group like Gamblers Anonymous, which is a 12-step program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you are a parent of a child with a gambling addiction, it is essential to involve the entire family in the treatment process. This will help you set boundaries and encourage the gambler to seek help. Family members can also help by taking over the management of credit cards and other financial assets, making them inaccessible to the gambler.