Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent to win another item of value, where instances of strategy are discounted. The act of gambling is characterized by risk and reward, and it can lead to compulsive behavior and addiction. Gambling is not a medically recognized disorder, but it can cause significant harm to individuals and families. It is associated with psychiatric symptoms and co-occurring disorders, including depression and anxiety. Individuals who suffer from an impulse control disorder, such as kleptomania (stealing) or pyromania (fire-starting), may also have problems with gambling.
Although most people who gamble are not addicted, some develop a problem over time. Compulsive gambling is considered a behavioral addiction, and it can have serious negative impacts on relationships and finances. People who develop a gambling disorder can experience significant distress and difficulty controlling their behavior, even after seeking treatment. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, has placed pathological gambling in the same category as other impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair pulling).
In many cases, the desire to gamble is driven by an inability to control one’s mood, anxiety, boredom or depression. The activity can also provide an escape from unpleasant or distressing situations, such as a difficult relationship or financial issues. The resulting feelings of powerlessness and guilt can reinforce the gambling habit.
Researchers have found that some people are more prone to developing a gambling addiction than others. Age and sex are both important risk factors. Younger and middle-aged people are more likely to be affected, and females often start gambling later in life than men. Those who have family members with gambling problems are also more at risk.
To avoid a gambling problem, it is important to only use money that you can afford to lose. It is also important to set a time limit for yourself and leave when you reach it, whether you are winning or losing. It is also helpful to find healthy ways to relieve unpleasant emotions and boredom. These can include exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, practicing relaxation techniques or engaging in other enjoyable activities.
It is important to remember that there are no guarantees when gambling, and the chances of winning are very low. It is also important to not make a habit of chasing lost money. In most cases, trying to get back your losses will only result in larger losses. It is also a good idea to gamble only with money you can afford to spend and not with your retirement or savings funds.
In addition to therapy, there are a number of self-help and support groups available for those struggling with a gambling addiction. Some of these groups are based on a 12-step model, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, and provide valuable guidance and encouragement to those who struggle with this behavior. Other options include seeking out a mentor, or a person who has a history of successful recovery from gambling.