Gambling involves risking money or something else of value on an event whose outcome is uncertain, such as a lottery ticket, scratchcard, fruit machine, horse race or sports match. If you’re able to predict the outcome of the event correctly, you win money or other prizes. However, many people who gamble experience harm in the form of addiction or debt, which can rob them of their health, their relationships and their jobs and can lead to suicide. The biggest challenge for people with gambling problems is admitting they have a problem and seeking help.
Several factors contribute to gambling disorders, including genetics and social inequalities such as unemployment or poverty, especially in women. In addition, traumatic experiences in childhood or adolescence can increase the risk of developing a gambling disorder. Symptoms of gambling disorder may start in early adolescence or as late as older adulthood.
There are a range of treatments available for people with gambling problems, including psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication. Psychiatric medications are often used to treat co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety, while CBT helps people identify negative thoughts and behaviors associated with gambling. Some of the more intensive treatments include residential and inpatient care.
In the past, psychiatry regarded pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has moved it to the section on impulse control disorders, alongside other compulsive behaviors such as kleptomania and pyromania. This shift is widely viewed as a significant milestone in the movement to recognize pathological gambling as an official addiction.
Getting help for gambling is important because it’s a very difficult habit to break. It can have serious impacts on your life, even if you’re only gambling small amounts of money or don’t seem to be having much fun. It can damage your family relationships, your performance at work or study, and it can leave you with serious debts that could cause you to lose your home. It can also impact on your health and wellbeing, with studies showing that gambling can be linked to higher rates of mental illness, drug use and poorer physical health.
It’s possible to recover from gambling disorders, but it takes a lot of courage and strength to recognise you have a problem. Talking about it can help, and there are plenty of people out there who have been in your shoes and have overcome this issue. If you’re concerned about your gambling, get in touch – it’s free and confidential.