Most adults and adolescents have placed a bet of some kind, but for some, gambling becomes a problem. A subset of those who gamble develop pathological gambling (PG), a mental disorder defined by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of behavior that cause distress or impairment. In the past, the psychiatric community viewed pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder—a fuzzy category that included such illnesses as kleptomania and pyromania, but now the APA has moved it into the addictions chapter of its diagnostic manual, the DSM-5.
Getting help is possible, but it takes work and time. If you are struggling with a gambling problem, counseling can help you learn to manage your emotions and thoughts and find healthier ways to cope. A counselor can also teach you techniques to help you deal with stressful situations and other behaviors that might trigger your urges. There are no FDA-approved medications to treat a gambling disorder, but there are several types of psychotherapy that can help.
A good rule to follow when gambling is a priority for you is to only gamble with disposable income, not money that is needed for bills or rent. This will prevent you from spending more than you can afford to lose and help you recognize when it is time to leave. It is also important to balance gambling with other activities. Gambling should never interfere with or take the place of friends, family, work or other enjoyable pursuits. Also, be sure to avoid chasing losses—thinking that you are due for a big win and can recoup your lost funds. It is almost always a losing proposition, and you are likely to end up even further in the hole.
The reason that gambling can be so addictive is because it sends massive surges of dopamine through the brain, a feel-good neurotransmitter. But the more you gamble, the more your brain becomes desensitized to this reward. This can lead to a cycle where you are constantly seeking out gambling experiences and ignoring other important aspects of your life.
The first step to overcoming gambling problems is to admit that you have a problem. It’s important to remember that the urge to gamble can be triggered by many things, such as stress, boredom or even depression. Then, you need to make a decision that it’s time to change your behaviors and seek help. There are many resources available to you, including family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling. These can help you work through the specific issues that have been created by your problem gambling and lay the foundation for repairing relationships and restoring financial stability. Also, consider joining a support group. This will be a great opportunity to share your story and get advice from others who are struggling with the same problems. Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to your family and friends. They may have been affected by your gambling behavior as well, and they can offer support and guidance.