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How to Recognize a Gambling Disorder

When people gamble, they wager something of value on an uncertain event with the hope of winning something else of value. This can be done in many ways, such as placing a bet on a sporting event, lottery drawing, or casino game. Regardless of the specifics, gambling involves the same psychological processes and events. Although most adults and adolescents engage in gambling at some point, a small percentage of them develop a gambling disorder. The disorder is characterized by an intense craving for gambling and can cause significant problems with work, school, and relationships. Ultimately, it can lead to financial ruin.

Gambling has a long history, and its supporters and detractors argue passionately over whether it offers moments of fantasy and grandeur, or is a path to addiction, debt, and personal destruction. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) listed 10 warning signs of compulsive gambling, which was removed from the DSM-V in 2012.

People with mental health conditions are especially susceptible to developing a gambling problem. In particular, depression, stress, or substance abuse can trigger gambling disorder and make it worse. In addition, people with mood disorders are more likely to be impulsive and less able to control their impulses. They are also more likely to be reckless, and may even steal money or borrow money to finance their gambling activities.

The nature of a person’s personality, genetics, and environment can also impact their ability to recognize or cope with a gambling problem. People with an underactive brain reward system, for example, are often more prone to thrill-seeking behaviors and have trouble controlling their urges or weighing risks. They are also more likely to experience cognitive distortions, which can lead them to believe that they are a good gambler and overestimate their chances of winning.

Similarly, cultural factors can influence an individual’s view of gambling activity and what constitutes a problem. In some communities, gambling is considered a normal pastime, and this can make it harder to recognize a gambling disorder.

If you or a loved one has a gambling problem, there are steps you can take to help. Start by strengthening your support network. Reach out to friends and family members who can encourage you to seek treatment. Consider joining a support group for problem gamblers, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the Twelve Step program for alcoholism recovery. You can also get help with underlying mood disorders through therapy, which can reduce the likelihood of relapse. For example, BetterHelp can match you with a licensed therapist who specializes in treating anxiety and depression, which are often related to gambling disorders. Getting therapy can help you manage your emotions and avoid gambling to relieve them. It can also help you rebuild your relationships and finances. Lastly, you can seek professional treatment and rehab for severe gambling disorders. These programs are often inpatient or residential, and provide round-the-clock support and guidance.