Gambling is an activity where people risk money or something else of value in the hope of winning more money or a prize. It can be done with money, goods, services or even virtual items. It is a popular pastime for many people and is often associated with excitement, social interaction and even moral turpitude. Gambling is not always considered a problem, but for some people it can become an addiction. Whether you are a casual gambler or a compulsive gambler, this article provides information and resources to help you cope with gambling issues.
Problem gambling is a significant public health issue that affects individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Symptoms range from normal betting behavior to those that meet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, DSM-IV) diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling. Problem gambling can cause emotional and financial distress and interfere with a person’s ability to function in family, work, school and community settings.
A person may be considered to have a gambling problem when they engage in any of the following: (1) has an uncontrollable urge to gamble; (2) feels the need to increase their wager size in order to maintain their excitement level while gambling; (3) tries unsuccessfully to control their gambling; (4) lies to friends, family or their therapist about their gambling; (5) attempts to regain losses by continuing to gamble (“chasing” one’s losses); (6) has engaged in illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft, embezzlement, or loan sharking, to finance their gambling; (7) jeopardizes a relationship, job, educational or career opportunity or (8) rely on others to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling (American Psychiatric Association 2000).
There is no single theory on the development and maintenance of pathological gambling. Research has indicated that the onset of gambling behavior is generally influenced by environmental factors and by genetic predisposition. Moreover, the occurrence of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can contribute to the onset or severity of gambling problems.
A person who is struggling with a gambling disorder may also benefit from individual, group, or family therapy. Counseling can help address the specific issues that have been created by a gambling problem and lay the foundation for repairing relationships and finances. In addition, a therapist can assist with addressing any underlying issues that are contributing to a gambling problem, such as depression, stress, or substance abuse. These issues can also be exacerbated by compulsive gambling and should be treated simultaneously. Moreover, a therapist can assist with finding ways to manage finances and credit so that the gambler does not end up worse off than they were before. This includes setting budgets for spending money and establishing clear boundaries in the use of credit cards and other sources of funding. Lastly, counseling can also address relationship issues, such as infidelity and sexual dysfunction that are often linked to gambling behavior.