Gambling is a form of betting on an outcome that involves risk and an expectation of profit or loss. It can be a fun and rewarding activity, but it can also become dangerous if done out of control. Those with gambling disorders may not seek treatment or may try to hide their problem. A variety of treatments are available for those who have trouble controlling their gambling behavior, and some studies suggest that some forms of psychotherapy are effective.
A rough estimate of the amount of money legally wagered each year worldwide is $10 trillion (illegal gambling is even greater). Gambling is widespread in most countries and takes many forms, including state-licensed lotteries, sports betting, online games and video games with gambling elements for both adults and children. Many of these activities generate enormous surges of dopamine, which are the brain’s reward chemicals. These surges can be addictive, causing people to seek pleasure from risky behaviors rather than from healthy ones like work or exercise. Over time, this can cause the brain to change its chemistry and increase cravings for rewards like gambling.
Symptoms of gambling disorder can include problems with spending and managing money, secretive or evasive behavior and hiding evidence of their activity. It’s important to get help if you’re worried about someone, because this problem can have serious consequences for family members and friends.
While it’s not clear what causes people to develop a gambling disorder, it is thought that genetics and stressful life events can play a role. The condition is more common in men than in women, and it can start during adolescence or later in life. It’s not uncommon for the symptoms to improve or disappear on their own, but they can return later.
Although there are no medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat gambling disorder, several types of psychotherapy can help. These therapies can help individuals identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. They also teach skills to manage stress and anxiety. They are usually conducted with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or social worker.
It’s difficult to cope with a loved one’s compulsive gambling. You can help by limiting how much you spend on gambling, by setting money and time limits for gambling, and by not giving in to urges to gamble. You can also help by finding other ways to enjoy leisure activities and addressing any mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, that might trigger or be made worse by gambling. You can also offer support by talking to other families who have dealt with the same issues. The important thing is to keep trying until you find a strategy or therapist that works for you. It’s also important to be honest with yourself about your feelings and to recognise that you need help. This is often hard to do, especially for those who feel ashamed or think they can fix the problem themselves.