Gambling involves risking something of value on a random event for the purpose of winning something else of value. It includes wagers on games of chance, such as lotteries, scratchcards and fruit machines; as well as betting on sporting events and horse races. It does not include bona fide business transactions valid under contract law, such as purchases of securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance.
Like other addictions, gambling can be hard to overcome because it is often linked with positive feelings. For example, when you win at a casino, your body produces a dopamine rush. These good feelings can lead you to gamble even more, in the hope of getting that next high. But this is a dangerous cycle. Eventually, you may lose more than you can afford to lose, and this can have devastating consequences for your finances, work, family and mental health.
Many people have a small amount of trouble with gambling, but a smaller subset develops an underlying pathology that causes them distress or impairment. This is called gambling disorder. It is included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called the DSM) as a condition requiring treatment.
A person with gambling disorder has a persistent and recurrent pattern of problematic gambling that disrupts or interferes with their daily functioning, including relationships and occupation. Those with gambling disorders also exhibit cognitive and motivational biases that influence their preferences for particular gambling activities.
While there are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders, psychotherapy can be helpful. Counseling can teach you new coping skills and help you examine how your thinking influences your behaviors. It can also help you build a support network and find other ways to get positive feelings without gambling. Trying new hobbies, joining a sports team or book club, volunteering for a good cause, or finding a hobby that allows you to socialize with others can all be useful in replacing the thrill of gambling. You can also join a gambling recovery group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and offers support from other recovering gamblers.
Many people who struggle with gambling are able to stop their addictive behavior by taking steps to manage their money and relationships, find other sources of positive feelings, and create more structured lives for themselves. The best way to do this is to seek help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in gambling disorder, as well as other treatments, such as family therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy.