Gambling Addiction

Gambling is the risking of something of value (money or personal belongings) on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the hope of winning. It is also considered to be a form of entertainment and can provide people with a rush or high, similar to the feeling one gets when taking drugs. Some people are more prone to gambling addiction than others, although there is no evidence that gambling can be classified as an illness.

Often, gamblers do not recognise that they have a problem and are reluctant to admit it. They may hide their gambling from friends and family, lie about the amounts they spend and even cheat or steal to fund their habit. They may even develop an irrational fear of losing money or a sense of shame and guilt.

Problem gambling affects not only the person who is gambling, but also their family, work and social life. It can lead to serious debt and even homelessness. It can be extremely difficult to break the cycle of gambling, but there are things that can be done. People who are struggling with a gambling addiction should seek help from a doctor or support group. The National Helpline and a number of local self-help groups for families, such as Gam-Anon, are available.

Many factors can contribute to gambling addiction, including a tendency to replicate an early big win, boredom susceptibility, impulsivity, the use of escape coping and stressful life experiences. People with this disorder may also have poor understanding of random events and tend to believe that they are due for a lucky streak. They can be particularly susceptible to the “gambler’s fallacy,” in which they think that they are due to win and can recoup their losses.

It is important to remember that, in most cases, it was not the gambler’s choice to become addicted and it took time for their behavior to spiral out of control. This can help you avoid becoming angry with your loved one. Instead, try to understand their situation and focus on helping them recover from this disorder. For example, encourage them to seek professional help and offer to attend a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. You can also encourage them to try healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings or make themselves feel less bored, such as exercising, socialising with non-gambling friends and developing new hobbies. A residential treatment program is usually recommended for those with severe gambling addictions who are unable to quit on their own and need round-the-clock support. It is a good idea to find a sponsor, someone with experience of staying free from gambling, to help them through the process. Generally, recovery is more successful if it is supported by family and peers. The recovery process can be a long and bumpy journey, so it is important to have the right support in place. The article was written by David A. Brown, Ph.D., and edited by John W. Cox, MD.

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