Gambling involves putting something of value at risk on an event that is determined in some way by chance. Some people gamble because they like the rush of winning money or the feeling of excitement when things turn out well, but for many compulsive gambling can quickly become a destructive habit. Many individuals who suffer from a gambling addiction have underlying mood disorders such as depression or stress that can both trigger the problem and make it worse.
When a person gambles, the body releases chemicals that stimulate the reward center of the brain. This creates a false sense of pleasure and can reinforce the behavior. For this reason, it is important to seek help for any underlying mental health problems before addressing the gambling problem.
There are several effective treatments for gambling disorder. In addition to psychotherapy, which is a term for a broad group of treatment techniques that are used to change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors, many people find relief by strengthening their support networks and finding healthy ways to spend their time. It is also helpful to seek help for any underlying mood disorders that can trigger the problem or make it worse, such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medications to treat gambling disorder. However, there are several types of psychotherapy that may be useful. These include group therapy, individual psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional and family therapy. Some individuals also benefit from joining a peer support program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Generally, people who have trouble with gambling engage in this activity for social reasons, to escape from reality or as a source of thrills. In some cases, they may use gambling to meet basic human needs, such as a need for status or specialness (e.g., casinos often promote themselves as places where people can experience these feelings).
Although gambling is primarily an entertainment activity, it is not without its serious risks and consequences. The adverse effects of gambling are comparable to those associated with other forms of substance abuse. In fact, for many years, people who had problems with gambling were considered to have a chemical imbalance and viewed as having an illness similar to alcoholics.
Currently, most researchers and clinicians consider excessive gambling to be a behavioral disorder that can lead to a variety of negative outcomes. While research into the etiology of pathological gambling is continuing, the prevailing view is that the disorder is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Treatments are being developed based on this concept. These treatments have had varying degrees of effectiveness. They can be divided into two groups: those that are derived from integrated approaches and those that are based on eclectic theoretic conceptualizations of pathological gambling. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses. In general, integrated treatments appear to be more successful than treatments based on eclectic theoretic conceptualizations.