Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that has a random outcome. Typically, it includes betting money on sports or games of chance, but also includes lottery tickets and scratch-offs. Some people are at increased risk for developing a gambling disorder because of genetics, family history or coexisting mental health conditions. Personality traits and environmental factors are also important considerations.
A person who is at risk for gambling addiction should seek treatment to prevent escalation. Some psychiatric treatments may help, including psychotherapy and medications. Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous use peer support to help others overcome their problems and many states have gambling helplines and other assistance.
There are several types of psychotherapy for problem gamblers, including individual therapy, group psychotherapy and family therapy. Some therapists use psychodynamic therapy, which examines unconscious processes that influence behavior. Other therapists focus on teaching coping skills and helping the patient find healthier ways to relieve stress. Family therapy is useful for educating family members about the condition and creating a supportive home environment.
Medications are rarely used to treat problem gambling, although some studies suggest that certain antidepressants may decrease the urge to gamble. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any drugs to treat compulsive gambling, but psychotherapy can be effective. The type of therapy a person chooses should be tailored to his or her particular needs and should be conducted by a licensed therapist.
Some therapists are trained to recognize warning signs of a gambling disorder. A person with a gambling disorder may downplay or deny his or her problem, hide the amount of time and money spent on gambling or try to conceal the activity from loved ones. The therapist should be able to identify these warning signs and recommend treatment options.
In addition to seeking a professional diagnosis, people with gambling disorders should limit their exposure to gambling-related activities and avoid financial temptations. They should also learn to handle stressful situations in healthy ways, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. Those with gambling disorders should also seek treatment for any other underlying mental health issues that are contributing to their behavior.
Behavioral changes can be difficult, especially when an addictive behavior has been part of a person’s life for a long time. Some people may feel ashamed to admit they have a problem, or they might blame their gambling on other problems, such as depression or a job loss. They may also be tempted to rationalize their behavior, saying things such as, “I’m just going to gamble this one last time.” It is important for family and friends of those with a gambling disorder to support them in their efforts to stop. They can help by encouraging them to seek treatment, setting limits on their spending, and joining a support group for families of problem gamblers, such as Gam-Anon.