Gambling is a controversial subject and divides people into two camps. Some believe it should be banned and others think people should be allowed to gamble, as long as it is regulated and kept within safe parameters. The truth is, however, gambling will happen whether it is legal or not and, if it is outlawed, it will simply go underground where criminal gangs can take advantage of vulnerable people.
People gamble for many reasons, including to try and win money, experience the adrenaline rush of winning, socialise, or as a way to relieve stress or boredom. However, gambling can also have a negative impact on your health and can be addictive. Identifying the warning signs of a gambling problem is important so that you can get help before it’s too late.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about gambling, betting more than you can afford to lose or finding other ways to spend your money, it’s time to seek help. Getting treatment for your gambling disorder will help you learn to cope with the urges and develop healthier, more productive ways of spending your time. It will also teach you how to deal with other underlying issues like depression, stress or anxiety, which can both trigger gambling addictions and make them worse.
The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t currently have any medications approved to treat gambling disorder, but psychotherapy can help. Psychiatric therapy involves talking with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker, who will work with you to understand and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as family therapy, marriage counseling and credit and debt counseling.
For example, people may lie to family members or therapists in order to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling; they might attempt to regain losses by continuing to gamble, even when it is no longer fun; they might engage in illegal acts to finance gambling; or they might jeopardize relationships or job opportunities to fund their habit. People with gambling disorders might also develop other psychiatric problems, such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
Psychiatric researchers are working hard to understand the biological mechanisms behind gambling addiction and how it develops, so that they can improve methods of diagnosis and treatment. For instance, a new study found that the brain areas that regulate emotion and behavior are affected by compulsive gambling, so this could lead to more effective interventions in the future.
Until recently, psychiatrists have viewed pathological gambling as more of an impulse control disorder than an addiction, but in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the APA has moved it to the category of addiction. This is a welcome step forward because it means that therapists can now use evidence-based therapies to help people overcome their gambling addictions.