Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, betting on sports events or playing the pokies (slot machines), gambling involves placing money at risk in order to win something of value. While many people gamble for fun and social reasons, for some it can become a problem. If you or someone you know is concerned about gambling behavior, there are ways to help.
Gambling affects the brain, but it’s not always clear why some people find it difficult to stop. Some studies suggest that certain individuals may have an underactive reward system, resulting in difficulty controlling impulses and weighing risks. Other factors can contribute to problematic gambling, such as a family history of addiction or underlying mental health conditions like depression. Some cultures also consider gambling a normal pastime, making it harder for individuals to recognize that it’s a problem.
In addition to treating any underlying disorders, it’s important to learn about gambling and how it works. This can help you understand the triggers that lead to dangerous gambling behaviors and help you set healthy boundaries in your own life. If you or someone you know is concerned, speak up sooner rather than later to get help.
Speak up in a nonjudgmental way. Try to avoid making statements that put your loved one on the defensive or make them feel guilty about their behavior. If they do have a gambling problem, help them find treatment and support groups. It’s also important to talk about how the problem is affecting your relationship.
Don’t rely on friends and family to bail you out of a gambling binge or replace the money you’ve lost. That’s often called “chasing your losses,” and it’s a surefire way to keep you gambling even when you’re losing. Instead, try to balance gambling with other activities and remember that it’s an expense, not a source of income.
Establish bankroll limits and stick to them. This will prevent you from spending more than you can afford to lose. It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of time you spend gambling, and don’t use credit cards for this purpose.
Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for gambling disorder and can be done alone or with a group. It is a series of sessions with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker, that focus on changing unhealthy emotions and thoughts. These treatments can include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation and family-focused counseling. In some cases, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication can be used in combination with these treatments to treat underlying conditions that are contributing to the gambling behavior. However, these medications are not FDA-approved for the treatment of gambling disorder.