Whether you play poker, slots, roulette or the lottery, gambling involves betting on an event with the hope of winning something of value. While most people gamble responsibly, for a small percentage of people it becomes an addictive disorder. Known as pathological gambling (PG), it causes serious problems with a person’s life, family and work. PG is a mental health condition that affects about 0.4-1.6% of Americans. It often begins in adolescence or early adulthood, and it usually worsens over time. Those with PG tend to have more severe problems with strategic and face-to-face gambling games, such as blackjack and poker, than nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, like slot machines.
Research has shown that a combination of factors can contribute to a person becoming addicted to gambling. These include genetics, which can influence how an individual processes reward information and controls impulses. Research also suggests that some people may have an underactive brain reward system, which can lead to a lack of control and impulsivity. These traits can be compounded by other risky behaviors, including drug use, poor financial management and a history of depression or anxiety.
Gambling stimulates the same part of the brain that is activated by taking drugs and can have similar effects on a person. It can also be used to meet a variety of needs, including a desire for status and a sense of belonging. Many casinos promote this idea, with elaborate marketing and promotions that reinforce the feeling of being special. In addition, gambling can provide a way to escape from the daily stresses of life and provide an adrenaline rush.
While there are no FDA-approved medications for gambling disorders, some people have found that psychotherapy and support groups help them overcome their addictions. Counseling can help a person understand their behavior and think about how it affects them and their family. It can also help them consider options and solve problems. Medications may be helpful for those with co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety, but only therapy can treat the root causes of a person’s problem.
Trying to stop gambling is challenging, but it’s possible. For starters, it’s important to set limits for yourself. Ensure that you have a fixed amount of money that you can comfortably lose before entering the casino. Keep your bank card in your hotel room and don’t take out more money to replace what you’ve lost. You can also try to distract yourself by doing other activities, such as exercising or spending time with friends. Never chase your losses, thinking that you’re due for a big win and can make up for your losses. This is called the “gambler’s fallacy.” This kind of thinking can be especially dangerous for those who are experiencing financial difficulties. Also, don’t isolate yourself — seek out the help of loved ones and reach out to local resources for help. You may be able to find financial assistance, support groups or even free treatment programs.