Gambling involves putting money on the outcome of an event or game, such as placing a bet on a sports team winning a match or buying a scratchcard. While most people who gamble do so without problems, a small percentage of individuals develop pathological gambling (PG), which is characterized by compulsive, maladaptive patterns of behavior that cause distress or impairment in their lives. PG is more common among young people, especially males, and those who start gambling at an early age.
Problem gambling is often triggered by mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, and made worse by alcohol or drug abuse. It can also interfere with work, education and personal relationships. The most serious and dangerous type of gambling is compulsive or addictive gambling, which occurs when a person loses control of their finances or health and experiences recurrent losses. This type of gambling can lead to bankruptcy, strained or broken relationships, and job loss.
A number of psychological treatments can help someone overcome a gambling addiction. Psychodynamic therapy, for example, explores unconscious processes that influence one’s behavior and helps to increase self-awareness. Other psychotherapies that are useful include group and family therapy, which provide motivation to change and support for peers who are also struggling with a gambling problem.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can teach a person to identify and challenge irrational beliefs that trigger unhealthy gambling behaviors. For example, when a person puts down a bet on a football match, their body releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. They believe that a win will make them happy, so they keep betting even after they’ve lost money.
Behavioral therapy can help people learn to manage and replace their problematic gambling habits with healthier ways of managing their moods, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. Behavioral therapy can also help a person cope with feelings of boredom and loneliness, which are often triggers for gambling.
Getting help for a gambling problem is the first step to recovery. However, it can be difficult to admit that you have a problem, particularly if it has ruined your finances or strained or broken your relationships. A therapist can support you through this process and help you rebuild your life. Finding the right therapist for you is easy with BetterHelp, the world’s largest online therapy service. Get matched with a licensed, vetted therapist in as little as 48 hours. You can also talk to a support specialist for additional assistance and guidance.