Whether it is playing the lottery, betting on sports events or using the pokies, gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event with the hope of winning something else of value. Gambling is often thought of as an activity that is enjoyable for many people. However, for some, it can become a serious addiction. Those who have problem gambling may be at risk of financial, social and personal consequences. There are a variety of treatment options available for those with this addiction.
The first step in treating a gambling disorder is to identify the underlying issues. Counseling can help people understand the underlying problems and consider options to solve them. It can also be helpful to have a professional assess the situation to ensure that the person is safe and there is no co-occurring mental health issue causing their gambling. There are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders, but there are some that may be effective for other conditions such as depression or anxiety.
In addition, counseling can help a person confront irrational beliefs about gambling that may be contributing to the problem. It can also be beneficial to learn coping skills and to set limits in managing money to prevent the individual from using it to gamble. Family and friends can also be supportive in helping the person change their behavior.
Longitudinal studies of gambling are becoming more common but they are still challenging to undertake. The cost and complexity of a longitudinal study can be prohibitive and there are difficulties with maintaining research team continuity over a long period, sample attrition and the difficulty of controlling for aging effects and periods (e.g., whether a particular gambling activity is because a new casino has opened in the area).
While monetary impacts on society are well-documented, few studies have looked at the positive social benefits of gambling. These could include a reduction in public service costs associated with gambling, such as homelessness and poverty, and increased tax revenues that can be used for social programs. Another way to look at the socioeconomic impact of gambling is through a cost-benefit analysis approach that uses quality of life weights, known as disability weights, to discover the negative and positive impacts on a gambler’s quality of life and the effect on those around them. This is a methodology that has been used in other fields of drug and alcohol abuse research. However, it is still not widely applied to gambling research. This is perhaps because of the difficulty in identifying and measuring the costs and benefits of gambling. Nevertheless, this type of research is important to understanding the true costs and benefits of this activity. Further, it will enable us to develop better policies that promote responsible gambling and reduce the harms. This is particularly important in a country such as the United States, where gambling is an integral part of the economy. It is estimated that gambling contributes $90 billion to the national economy.