Imagine yourself in a twinkly, noisy casino. You’ve filled up at the buffet and you’re itching to roll the dice. You want to see if you can hit the jackpot and retire on your own private island. But gambling is a lot more complicated than what we see in the movies. It can affect your mental health, and is often associated with other problems, such as alcohol or drug use. You should be aware of the risks, and get help if you need it.
Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent of winning something else of value, where instances of strategy are discounted. It is an activity that can be dangerous and cause financial, emotional and psychological harm. It is estimated that over 2 million U.S adults (1%) have a severe gambling problem. An additional 4-6 million (2-3%) have mild gambling problems. The vast majority of people who gamble do so responsibly and for enjoyment.
Psychiatrists are familiar with the dangers of gambling and have a range of tools to help people control their behaviour. One of the most important is money management. It is very easy to spend more than you can afford, and it is also easy to use gambling as a way to avoid dealing with painful feelings. For example, some people gamble to relieve boredom, loneliness or stress. Others do it because they believe that luck will change their fortunes. Regardless of the reason, it is vital to know your limits and never use your credit card to gamble.
It’s also important to understand why your loved ones gamble, as they may have many reasons for doing so, from coping with negative emotions to socialising. You should avoid being judgemental, as they probably do not realise that their gambling has become a problem.
There are no medications that can be prescribed to treat gambling disorder, but there are psychotherapies that can help. Psychotherapy is a general term for a number of treatment techniques that aim to change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviours. It can take place individually or in groups, and is conducted by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker.
Research has shown that some people are genetically predisposed to risk-taking behaviours and impulsivity. Other studies show that the brain’s reward circuits are more active in some people, and this can influence how they make decisions and weigh risk. Other factors that can influence gambling include culture and family background. For instance, some communities consider gambling as a normal pastime and this can make it harder to recognize that it has become a problem.
Gambling can be addictive, and if it becomes a serious issue you should seek professional help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be useful, as it can help you challenge beliefs that are triggering your gambling, such as the belief that certain rituals can bring good luck and the idea that you can win back any losses by gambling more. In addition, behavioural therapy can help you learn healthier ways to manage your mood and relieve unpleasant feelings. For example, you can try to find other ways to relax and socialise, and practice stress-relief techniques.