Gambling is placing something of value, usually money, at risk on a random event that involves an element of chance and carries a potential for winning a greater amount of money. Common types of gambling include the lottery, bingo, slot machines, cards, racing and sporting events, and dice games. People gamble for a variety of reasons, including the desire to win a big prize and the excitement of taking a chance.
In addition, many people use gambling as a way to relieve boredom or as an outlet for negative emotions. Despite the risks, most people who engage in gambling do not develop pathological gambling, which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) as a persistent, recurrent pattern of behavior associated with significant distress or impairment. The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to ancient China, when tiles were found that appeared to be used for a rudimentary game of chance. Today, most states have legalized gambling. In the United States, it is estimated that about four out of five adults and adolescents have gambled.
Some individuals have a predisposition to developing gambling disorder because of family history, personality traits, or coexisting mental health conditions. While a person’s genetic makeup may influence the development of gambling disorder, other factors such as peer pressure, environmental influences, and social and economic circumstances can also contribute to its development.
There are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of gambling disorders, but there are a variety of psychotherapy approaches that can help someone overcome their problem. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that teaches individuals how to identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. It can help people learn to replace them with more productive thoughts and behaviors. Motivational interviewing is another technique that focuses on resolving uncertainty about healthy change. It helps individuals understand how their problematic gambling behaviors compare to the gambling patterns of the general population and pushes them to make behavioral changes.
Other coping strategies for a loved one with gambling problems include setting financial boundaries, strengthening support networks, and seeking professional help. In addition, physical activity can decrease cravings for gambling and some research has shown that it may help people who are addicted to online gaming. A self-help program such as Gamblers Anonymous can also be beneficial.
People who are prone to gambling should never try to “chase” their losses, which is when they wager more money in an attempt to recoup past losses. This is known as the “gambler’s fallacy” and is a recipe for disaster. It is also important to not take out credit cards when gambling, as this can lead to a financial crisis. In addition, a person should avoid alcohol and other drugs when gambling because they can impair judgment and reduce impulse control. Lastly, it is helpful to join a support group for people with gambling problems, such as Gam-Anon, which offers peer support and education.