Gambling is an activity in which a person places something of value at risk on a random event with the intent to win something else of value. It can involve any kind of wager, including betting on sports events or games of chance, such as slot machines or bingo. It can also include activities that require skill or knowledge, such as playing card games, but the basic element is placing a bet against the odds. Insurance is an example of a form of gambling; the premium paid for life insurance is in effect a bet against one’s own death, and the insurance company sets its odds using actuarial data.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a serious mental health problem that affects about 0.4%-1.6% of Americans. It typically starts in adolescence or young adulthood and often worsens over time. Those who have a PG diagnosis may experience a variety of negative consequences, such as problems at work and school, legal trouble, or family conflict.
People who have a PG diagnosis may also have trouble controlling their impulses and feelings about gambling, which can make them feel out of control. They might gamble to escape unpleasant emotions, such as boredom or anxiety. They may lie to friends and family members about their gambling habits, or even steal money to fund it. They might also jeopardize their relationship, job, or education opportunity to gamble. Those with a PG diagnosis might develop other addictions in addition to gambling, such as substance abuse or eating disorders.
Those who have a PG diagnosis can benefit from psychotherapy, which is a term that encompasses many types of treatment techniques. Various types of psychotherapy can help someone with a gambling disorder identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. For example, interpersonal therapy can help a person learn to interact with others in healthy ways, and cognitive behavioral therapy can teach a person new skills for coping with stress.
It’s important to speak up if you think that a loved one has a gambling problem, and to encourage them to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier a person with a gambling problem receives treatment, the more likely they are to recover. You can suggest they call a helpline or talk to a mental health professional, or join a support group for gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous. Be supportive and nonjudgmental, and listen to them without interrupting. It’s also a good idea to address any other underlying mood disorders, such as depression or stress, that could be contributing to the gambling behavior. You can also help your loved one find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant emotions and to socialize, such as by exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or taking up a hobby.