Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, betting on a football game or playing the pokies, gambling is all about taking a risk. People gamble for many reasons – to win money, socialise or escape worries and stress. However, for some it becomes an addiction that can lead to serious financial and emotional problems. If you’re worried that your gambling is out of control, it can help to seek treatment or join a support group. If you’re worried about a family member, reach out for help and set boundaries. It’s important to make sure that their credit cards are not at risk and that you don’t enable them by giving in to their requests “just this one last time”.
Gambling is a popular pastime and can provide entertainment. It’s also a way to relieve unpleasant feelings like boredom and loneliness. However, it’s not a good idea to use gambling as a way to deal with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders. Instead, seek treatment for these conditions and learn healthier ways to cope with mood swings, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble and practicing relaxation techniques.
It’s possible to get addicted to gambling even if you only gamble a few times a year. If you find yourself thinking about gambling all the time, ignoring other activities and lying to others about how much you’re spending on it, you may have a problem. Other warning signs include chasing losses (trying to win back the money you lost); avoiding family and other social activities; using drugs or alcohol to self-soothe unpleasant emotions; hiding evidence of gambling activities; lying to a therapist about the extent of your problem; and committing illegal acts such as theft or embezzlement to fund your gambling.
The American Psychiatric Association recently moved pathological gambling from the Impulse-Control Disorders chapter to the Addictions chapter in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This change, which came after 15 years of deliberation, reflects a new understanding of how an addictive behavior develops.
There are no medications to treat gambling disorder, but psychotherapy can help. This involves talking to a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. Treatment approaches vary, but they all aim to teach you coping skills and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Some of these treatments include cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches you to resist unwanted thoughts and habits; and behavioral therapies, such as habit-reversal training (learning to break your gambling habit by replacing it with a more constructive activity). In some cases, psychotherapy alone is enough to help you overcome a gambling problem. Some types of psychotherapy are more effective than others, but they all work by helping you identify and challenge unhealthy beliefs, thoughts and behaviors. You’ll learn how to stop irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a losing streak of bets will soon turn around. Changing these beliefs is the key to breaking free from the cycle of gambling.