Gambling involves wagering something of value, often money, on an uncertain event that is determined by chance or luck. People engage in gambling as a form of entertainment or to make a profit, but it can lead to serious problems for some individuals. Pathological gambling is a psychiatric disorder that affects the brain and causes a person to engage in harmful and impulsive gambling behaviors. It is a complex and chronic disorder that can cause significant personal, family, and financial difficulties.
In order for a person to be diagnosed with pathological gambling, he or she must have persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior. The disorder must also disrupt daily functioning, including work, school, and social relationships. There are various treatments for pathological gambling, including therapy and medications. These treatments have varying degrees of effectiveness. Several factors influence the etiology of pathological gambling, including genetics, environment, and mental health disorders.
Some of the symptoms of pathological gambling include: downplaying or lying to others about one’s involvement in gambling; hiding evidence of gambling activities; committing illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement, to finance gambling; jeopardizing or losing a job, educational, or career opportunity because of gambling; and relying on others to provide funds to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling. Those who engage in risky or compulsive gambling may develop feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression, or shame. They may have difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, and have trouble making decisions.
Humans are biologically motivated to seek rewards, and a win in a gamble can trigger the release of dopamine. This boost in dopamine makes it hard for someone with a gambling problem to stop, especially after they experience a series of wins. They also have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of an event occurring, such as winning the lottery or beating the slot machine, because they can recall stories in the news about people who won big, or because they remember their own lucky streaks.
In addition to individual therapy and medication, some gambling addicts have found success with group therapy programs like Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups offer support from others with the same addiction and can teach coping skills that can be applied in other settings. Other helpful resources include marriage, family, and credit counseling, which can help a person work through issues related to their gambling and lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with money. Lastly, it is important to strengthen your support network and find activities that don’t involve casinos or gambling websites. These might include reading, playing sports, joining a book club, volunteering, or finding new hobbies. You might even consider seeking a sponsor, a former gambler who has experienced sustained recovery. A sponsor can provide invaluable guidance and encouragement as you work to overcome your gambling problems.