Gambling is a risky activity that involves placing something of value (typically money) at stake on an event with an element of chance and the expectation of winning a prize. Gambling can include games such as poker, bingo, keno, sports betting, lottery tickets, slot machines, blackjack and roulette. Despite the high risk involved, many people find gambling to be enjoyable and even therapeutic. But some may become addicted and can even lose their homes, jobs and relationships. It is important to be aware of the warning signs and to seek help if gambling becomes a problem.
A recent study by Howard Shaffer and colleagues found that 4% of the population engages in disordered gambling behaviors. These behaviors range from those that put individuals at risk for more serious problems to those that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling. The study also identified factors that contribute to the development of pathological gambling, including family history and comorbidity with other disorders.
The study suggests that a combination of primary prevention and secondary and tertiary intervention strategies can help reduce the prevalence of gambling problems. Primary prevention strategies include raising awareness of problem gambling among healthcare professionals, providing information on how to identify and treat gambling-related problems, and setting up treatment pathways for those at risk. Secondary prevention includes screening for gambling-related problems in primary health clinics, and tertiary interventions involve specialized psychological and other treatment interventions for those with gambling disorders.
Although there are no drugs approved for the treatment of gambling disorder, some therapists have developed specific techniques that may reduce the symptoms of this condition. These techniques, which are based on the principles of behavioral therapy, aim to teach the gambler how to control their gambling behavior by changing their attitudes and reducing their impulsivity. In addition, therapists help the gambler to develop coping skills and replace harmful behaviors with healthy ones.
Often, the urge to gamble can be triggered by stress, depression, alcohol or drug use, poor self-esteem, family issues, or other conditions. However, it is possible to overcome gambling addiction through a number of methods, including peer support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, medication and other therapies. Inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs are for those with severe gambling disorders who need round-the-clock care.
A person can also stop gambling by limiting their time at casinos, avoiding free cocktails and other perks that encourage reckless betting, and making it a rule not to gamble on credit. They should also limit the amount of money they carry with them and make sure that their gambling does not interfere with work, socializing or other enjoyable activities. Finally, they should avoid chasing their losses; the more they try to win back lost money, the greater their loss will be. It is also recommended to avoid gambling when they are feeling down or depressed; this can lead to a downward spiral that will be hard to break.