Gambling is a risky activity where people place bets on events with uncertain outcomes and hope to win something of value, such as money. It can also be a way to relieve boredom or stress. While most people gamble without a problem, a small subset develop gambling disorder—defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as persistent, recurrent problematic gambling behavior that causes distress or impairment. Understanding what makes someone vulnerable to developing a gambling disorder can help with prevention and treatment, including the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
People who develop a gambling disorder often begin their journey by engaging in recreational betting, such as buying lottery tickets or placing bets on sports events. They may also take part in non-regulated forms of gambling, such as playing video games with a gambling element or betting on horse races. In addition, a number of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse can trigger gambling problems or make them worse.
A person can develop a gambling disorder for any reason, but research suggests that there are a few pathways leading to it. Some people have a family history of gambling, while others have a personality trait that makes them more likely to gamble, such as being impulsive or having a desire for risk. Other factors include stress, traumatic experiences, and other mood disorders that can be triggered or made worse by gambling.
The brain responds to gambling in a similar way to eating, sleeping and socializing, by releasing chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure. This reward system is particularly vulnerable in those who have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect. In addition, those who have a history of depression or anxiety are more likely to develop gambling problems, as they may turn to gambling as an escape from their negative emotions.
Some people become addicted to gambling because they believe they are more likely to win than they actually are. This belief is known as the “gambler’s fallacy.” In fact, there is no way to predict a win in gambling. Even the most skillful players can have a near miss, such as when the roulette wheel lands on 26 instead of 25.
It can be difficult to cope with a loved one who has a gambling addiction, especially when it involves financial matters. It is important to set boundaries and limit their access to credit cards, let a trusted family member manage their money, and close online betting accounts. Lastly, it is helpful to seek out support groups for yourself and your loved ones. It’s hard to battle any addiction alone. In addition, counseling can help you understand your own feelings and thoughts about gambling. It can also teach you coping strategies to deal with urges and other emotional challenges. Additionally, counseling can address co-occurring mood disorders that might be contributing to the gambling behavior, such as depression or anxiety. Finally, finding other ways to relax and have fun can help replace gambling behaviors.