Recognizing Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves betting something of value on an uncertain event, such as a race or a game of chance. It can be a fun and exciting activity, but it’s important to understand how much of a risk you’re taking. This is especially true if you’re a person with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, which may make you more susceptible to gambling addiction.

Most adults and adolescents have placed a bet at some point, but only a small fraction of people develop a problem with it. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition), pathological gambling, or PG, is “a persistent and recurrent pattern of compulsive gambling behavior that causes significant distress or impairment.”

Symptoms include loss of control over spending, a persistent desire to gamble even when faced with negative consequences, lying about gambling activities, and an inability to stop gambling. While it can be very difficult to admit that you have a gambling problem, many others have done so and successfully overcome the disorder. It takes tremendous strength and courage, but the first step is realizing you need help.

It’s also important to recognize that a gambling disorder is different than other addictions. Unlike alcohol or drugs, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders, but there are several psychotherapy techniques that can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments. Psychotherapy, which is a type of talk therapy, can be conducted with a therapist or a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous.

Some people who are at risk of developing a gambling problem can benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. CBT can also be helpful in addressing co-occurring mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which often trigger or worsen gambling disorder.

Many people who gamble do so for social or recreational reasons, such as enjoying the excitement of sports betting or the euphoria of winning money. They might also find the action soothing, as it relieves boredom or stress. The pleasure derived from these actions is linked to the brain’s reward system.

For people with a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, it’s particularly important to seek treatment for their gambling problem early on. This will not only reduce the likelihood of developing a gambling disorder, but it will also improve their overall functioning and increase their chances of success in stopping the behavior. Depending on the individual, therapy may involve psychoeducation, CBT or other evidence-based therapies, or family counseling. Regardless of the approach, it’s important to be supportive and to offer encouragement. The more your loved one feels heard, the more they’ll be willing to open up about their problems.