Whether it’s placing a bet on a game of chance or buying a Lotto ticket, gambling involves risking money for a chance to win more. The practice can be addictive and lead to serious problems for those who suffer from a gambling disorder, also known as pathological gambling. The good news is that help is available for those who need it, and some treatments are effective.
Problem gambling is characterized by recurrent episodes of gambling-related distress that affect a person’s life. People with a gambling disorder often experience intense feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as an inability to control their spending habits. It can also cause financial distress, including bankruptcy and homelessness. In addition, problem gamblers are at high risk for developing substance abuse problems. They can be reluctant to seek treatment, and some health care providers are unprepared to recognize and treat gambling disorders.
Research on the causes of gambling disorders has been hindered by the inability to conduct longitudinal studies. This type of research design is critical to understanding the underlying factors that contribute to a person’s susceptibility to gambling. However, longitudinal data collection is difficult and time consuming. This is due to the need for multiple test administrations, difficulty obtaining informed consent from participants, and the challenge of overcoming attrition effects and confounding variables such as aging and period effects.
Despite the lack of available scientifically validated treatments for gambling disorders, various psychotherapies have shown some promise in helping individuals with a gambling disorder overcome their harmful behaviors. The most promising approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviors. In particular, it encourages gamblers to confront irrational beliefs, such as the idea that a series of losses or a near miss (e.g., two out of three cherries on a slot machine) is a sign that a winning streak is imminent.
In addition to psychotherapy, some people benefit from group support. Some find relief by attending meetings of Gamblers Anonymous, a self-help organization for problem gamblers and their families. Others find that physical activity helps reduce symptoms. Many states have designated hotlines and support groups for those with gambling disorder. The most important thing is to recognize that you or a loved one has a problem and seek assistance.