Gambling is a form of entertainment that involves placing a bet on the outcome of an event. It can involve a game of chance or it may be a contest in which skill plays a part. Gambling can be done in casinos, on a horse race track, or even over the Internet. Problem gambling is characterized by excessive gambler involvement that negatively affects other areas of a person’s life, such as physical or mental health, school or work performance, finances, and interpersonal relationships.
Most adults and adolescents have placed a bet or made a wager, but a small proportion of people who gamble develop a disorder. This condition is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called the DSM) as a persistent, recurrent pattern of gambling that causes significant distress or impairment in daily functioning.
Understanding the brain and factors that may trigger problematic gambling is important. For example, researchers are beginning to understand that when a gambler wins, their brain releases dopamine, which makes them feel good and excitable. This reward system can make it difficult for them to recognize when they’ve lost enough or have a good reason to stop.
Another risk factor is social inequality, which can lead to low self-esteem and poor coping skills. Vulnerability to gambling disorders also tends to run in families. A gambler’s family members can be helpful in identifying problems, encouraging them to seek treatment, and supporting them through recovery.
A key component of the DSM-5 definition of gambling disorder is a person’s desire to place bets that are beyond his or her means. The disorder is further characterized by attempts to gain control over the situation, such as lying to family and friends or hiding evidence of gambling behavior.
Some activities that are based on luck or chance have some elements of skill involved, such as baseball pitching and stock market trading. But even these activities can become problematic for some people, especially if they are used to escape from stressful situations.
Attempting to overcome a problem with gambling is a long, difficult process. It can require professional help from a therapist who specializes in treating addictions. Some of the main treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and group or family therapy.
It’s also important to remember that the first step in overcoming a gambling disorder is admitting that there is a problem. This can be hard to do, especially if the problem has cost you money or has strained or broken your relationships. But it’s not impossible, and many people have successfully stopped gambling and rebuilt their lives.