Recognizing Problem Gambling


Gambling is the wagering of something of value, usually money, on a random event in the hope of winning something else of value. It requires three elements: consideration, risk and a prize. Most people who engage in gambling do so legally and responsibly; however, some people become addicted to the activity. Problem gambling is a serious mental health issue that can lead to severe consequences, including debt and bankruptcy, for those who are not treated. While most people have gambled at some point in their lives, it is important to recognize the warning signs of a problem and seek help if you suspect you may be suffering from this condition.

The American Psychiatric Association defines pathological gambling (PG) as persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of betting behaviors that cause distress or impairment in multiple areas of life, such as family, work, educational and social relationships, and often leads to other illegal activities like forgery, fraud, theft and embezzlement, in order to finance the habit. Symptoms of PG include: – Being preoccupied with thoughts about gambling; – Experiencing distress or anxiety if one does not gamble as much as they would like; – Using the internet or other technological devices to gamble; – Feeling an urge to bet even when one is not in the mood, or being unable to stop gambling once they start; – Attempting to win back their losses by wagering more money or engaging in different forms of gambling; – Losing control of spending, borrowing or investing money; and – Putting the interests of others ahead of one’s own in a financial transaction.

Several types of psychotherapy are used to treat problem gambling. Cognitive-behavior therapy, for example, teaches individuals how to challenge their unhealthy beliefs and emotions and is effective in treating gambling disorders. In addition, psychodynamic therapy helps individuals understand how unconscious processes influence their behavior and can be helpful in breaking the vicious cycle of relapse.

Psychotherapy can also be useful in addressing the underlying issues that contribute to problem gambling. Behavioral therapy can teach individuals new coping skills and ways to handle stress, while family therapy can help address the negative effects of gambling on the relationship with other members of the household. Lastly, 12-step programs, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can help struggling individuals find recovery and stay sober by providing support from other former gamblers.

Although there is no medication that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat gambling disorder, many psychological therapies are effective. Psychotherapy techniques may include cognitive-behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, group therapy and family therapy. Alternatively, some people benefit from using self-help resources to combat their addiction, such as support groups and peer recovery programs, or by implementing healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, a nutritious diet, good sleep hygiene and reducing alcohol consumption. Finally, it is also important to build a strong support network by reaching out to family and friends, or joining a book club, sports team or volunteering.