Recognizing the Signs of a Gambling Disorder

Gambling involves risking something of value on an event involving chance, such as a game of poker or throwing a dice. The gambler hopes to win something of greater value (such as money). Some people become addicted to gambling. It is important to recognize the signs of a gambling problem and get help for it.

A person may be at risk for developing a gambling disorder if:

(1) he or she has lost control of his or her finances due to gambling; (2) he or she is spending more than he or she can afford to lose; (3) he or she lies to family members, friends, or therapists to conceal how much he or she is losing; (4) he or she becomes upset or anxious when attempting to stop gambling; or (5) he or she feels compelled to gamble even in the face of significant losses. In addition, a person may be considered to have a gambling disorder if he or she:

Many factors can contribute to compulsive gambling, including genetic predisposition and poor financial management skills. In addition, some individuals are more likely to develop a gambling addiction because of a traumatic or stressful childhood experience or a history of depression or substance abuse. People with low incomes are also more likely to develop a gambling disorder. Young people, especially boys and men, are also more susceptible to gambling disorders.

The underlying condition contributing to a gambling disorder can be treated with psychotherapy or medication. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings, such as stress or boredom. It can also teach them to recognize and challenge unhealthy thoughts that lead to gambling urges.

Other therapies are based on psychodynamic principles and focus on unconscious processes that influence a person’s behavior. These include group therapy and a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous in which participants work with a sponsor, who is a former gambler who has successfully overcome his or her addiction.

Regardless of the type of therapy, it is vital for people who are at risk of developing a gambling disorder to avoid gambling altogether. They should never use money they need for bills or other obligations and only gamble with disposable income. They should also be sure to set a limit on how much they are willing to spend and stick to it. It is helpful to set an alarm on a watch or cell phone when gambling and to remember that casinos are often free of clocks, making it easy for a person to gamble for hours without realizing it. In addition, people should try to spend time with friends who don’t gamble or take up a hobby to avoid feeling bored. They should also practice relaxation techniques. These activities can be more effective at reducing negative emotions than gambling. Moreover, they are usually more fun and less expensive. In contrast, gambling is a lot more expensive than going to the cinema or bowling.