Gambling is the risking of something of value (money, property or possessions) on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. People gamble for a variety of reasons, from the excitement of winning to the social rewards of gambling with friends. While the vast majority of gamblers do not have a problem, some people develop a gambling disorder that requires treatment.
A key characteristic of pathological gambling is the repeated failure to stop gambling despite negative consequences, including a decline in work or family life, legal problems, loss of financial stability, and mental health symptoms like depression or anxiety. Psychiatrists are trained to assess and treat gambling disorders.
The main cause of gambling disorder is the reward system in the brain. When you win at a casino or when you place a bet with friends, your body is flooded with a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the same chemical that you get when you eat a delicious meal or spend time with your loved ones. However, if you gamble regularly, your brain becomes desensitized to the dopamine surge and requires more and more gambling activity to feel the same effects.
In addition to the desire to win, some gamblers are attracted to gambling because it can change their mood and give them feelings of euphoria. Other common motives for gambling include the desire to escape reality, relieve stress, or take their minds off everyday problems. People may also be drawn to gambling because it triggers a feeling of elation similar to that experienced when taking certain drugs, especially cocaine.
Several factors increase the risk of developing a gambling disorder, including genetics and personality traits. Research has shown that people with a family history of gambling are more likely to develop a problem than those who do not. There is also a tendency for people with a family history of substance abuse or mood disorders to have a higher risk of gambling disorder.
A number of different approaches have been used to treat gambling disorder, ranging from individual therapy to group support and family therapy. Intensive outpatient programs and residential treatment are also available. These programs offer around-the-clock support and are aimed at those with severe gambling problems who cannot quit on their own.
The first step to overcoming a gambling addiction is admitting that you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit a problem, especially when it has caused you to lose money and strain relationships with those who care about you. If you have trouble stopping gambling on your own, try distracting yourself with other activities, such as exercising or taking a long walk. You can also seek support from friends and family, or join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. BetterHelp can match you with a licensed, accredited therapist who specializes in treating gambling disorder. Start by taking our free assessment and get matched in as little as 48 hours.