A gambling addiction can have devastating effects on a person’s health and well-being. It can ruin relationships, cause financial difficulties and even lead to criminal activities. Problem gambling can also interfere with a person’s work and social life. It is estimated that around 2 million Americans have a serious gambling problem. The condition can be difficult to treat, and treatment is often ineffective. However, the latest research shows that cognitive-behavior therapy can help people with gambling problems.
Gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event in the hope of winning something of greater value. This can include games of chance, such as slot machines or dice, and activities that involve a degree of skill, such as card playing or horse racing. Skill is often discounted in these activities, but knowledge of betting strategies may improve the odds of winning at certain games, and familiarity with horses and jockeys can increase one’s ability to predict probable outcomes in a race.
It is possible for people to gamble recreationally without experiencing gambling addiction, but the majority of people who gamble experience some form of disorder. The disorder can be characterized by:
Many people with a problem with gambling try to conceal or deny their involvement with the activity. They may lie to family members, friends, or therapists and will attempt to justify their behavior by making excuses. They may hide gambling related expenditures, borrow money from others to finance their habit, and engage in risky behaviors, such as stealing or embezzlement. They may also hide evidence of their gambling behavior, such as credit cards, bills, or a cell phone.
Some people find that a hobby, such as gardening, cooking, or painting, can help them control their urge to gamble. Other people use drugs to suppress or dull their cravings. There are also a variety of support groups available for those with gambling disorders, including those for families of those affected by the problem. Physical exercise is also helpful, and some studies have shown that it can reduce symptoms of pathological gambling.
The recent decision to recognize pathological gambling as an addiction reflects a profound shift in understanding about the disorder. Previously, people who engaged in excessive gambling were considered to have behavioral disorders rather than an underlying mental illness. Consequently, they were not treated in the same way as people who had substance abuse problems, despite the fact that pathological gambling shares many features with alcoholism.
In order to fully understand the nature of gambling addiction, longitudinal data are needed. Such data will allow researchers to compare respondents at different points in time, and can address confounding factors such as aging and period effects (i.e., whether a person’s increased interest in gambling is due to being at a particular age or because a new casino opened in their area). Longitudinal studies are expensive and time consuming to conduct, but the results will be invaluable to the field of gambling research.