Gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. In the past, psychiatric researchers viewed pathological gambling as a form of impulse control disorder—which included similar conditions such as kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania (hair pulling). But in May, the American Psychiatric Association officially classified it as an addiction. This move was a milestone, marking the first time that gambling has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A gambling addiction can cause major financial problems and strained or broken relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome it. The first step is realizing that you have a problem. Many people have successfully recovered from this issue, despite having lost substantial amounts of money and even sacrificing their livelihoods. The second step is finding a treatment or rehab program. Inpatient and residential programs are available for those with severe gambling addictions who cannot control their behavior on their own.
Research is underway to better understand the neurological basis of gambling behavior. A recent Society for Neuroscience minisymposium featured presentations on this subject, including a study on the neural circuitry that controls gambling behavior in rodents and nonhuman primates. This research has the potential to provide insights into the behavioral and neurochemical mechanisms that underlie addictive behaviors, in addition to providing an important new framework for understanding human choice behavior and irrationality.
The key to overcoming gambling is taking control of your finances and limiting the amount of money you gamble. It is also important to find other activities that provide you with a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment, such as exercise, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. Lastly, it’s critical to avoid gambling when you’re feeling depressed or upset.
Another way to help combat a gambling addiction is by strengthening your support network. Joining a peer group like Gamblers Anonymous can help you stay motivated to overcome your addiction, and you can get valuable guidance from former gamblers who have successfully broken the habit.
In terms of financial issues, it is a good idea to only gamble with disposable income—not money that you need to pay bills or rent. It is also helpful to close online betting accounts and only keep a small amount of cash on you when you gamble. Finally, it’s a good idea to seek debt advice, as there is a link between gambling and financial crisis.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that gambling is only a temporary escape from unpleasant feelings. Eventually, you will need to face the unpleasant feelings head-on, whether it’s depression, anger, or grief. During this time, it’s helpful to reach out to family and friends for support and to take steps to work through the specific issues that caused you to gamble. This may include counseling, such as family therapy or marriage, career, and credit counseling. You can also seek debt help from organizations such as StepChange.