Helping Someone With a Gambling Problem
Gambling is the wagering of something of value (called a stake) on an event with an uncertain outcome with the intent to win something else of value. Some forms of gambling include lotteries, horse races, video games and casino games. It involves the use of cognitive processes, such as attention, memory and perception, as well as arousal systems, including the brain’s reward circuitry, to influence behavior. In addition, gambling is a complex and often destructive habit that can lead to serious problems.
Research has demonstrated that pathological gambling is a psychological disorder, similar to alcoholism and other addictive disorders. In fact, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, places pathological gambling within a new category called behavioral addictions. This nomenclature reflects growing recognition that the adverse consequences of gambling are similar to those of substance abuse, in terms of clinical expression, neurobiology and comorbidity.
The reasons people gamble vary. They may gamble to socialize, for fun, for a rush or for money. The latter is especially dangerous, as compulsive gambling can lead to a variety of financial problems. Some people may also become addicted to gambling because of underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can make it more difficult to control impulses.
In order to help someone with a gambling problem, family members should set financial boundaries, limit access to credit cards and take over household finances when necessary. In addition, it is important to find healthy ways to cope with boredom and stress. Some suggestions include exercise, spending time with friends who do not gamble, taking up a new hobby, or practicing relaxation techniques.
Some people with gambling problems also seek psychotherapy, which can be helpful in learning to identify and manage triggers of gambling. Several different types of therapy are available, including psychodynamic psychotherapy and group therapy. The former focuses on the unconscious dynamics that influence behavior, and the latter is useful in providing moral support to those who struggle with a gambling disorder.
In some cases, it may be necessary to enter a residential treatment or rehabilitation program. In these programs, people are able to learn how to overcome the urge to gamble and develop healthier coping skills in a safe environment. This is particularly important for those who have a serious gambling problem, such as pathological gamblers, who may not be able to prevent their compulsive behaviors without round-the-clock support. A key to success in these programs is finding a sponsor, who is a person with experience staying free from gambling, and attending meetings of a peer-support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. In addition, it is essential to continue to get adequate family and community support. This can help keep the gambler motivated to pursue recovery and remain on track with their goals. The risk of relapse is significantly increased in the absence of a strong support system.