The Warning Signs of Gambling Disorder
Whether it’s placing a bet on the next big sporting event, purchasing lottery tickets or playing games of chance with friends, gambling involves risking something of value (typically money) for an opportunity to win a prize. Some people gamble compulsively and find it difficult to stop. This can cause serious problems for family, work and social life.
Gambling is a common activity around the world and is regulated by governments in some countries, but it can also be illegal. Legal gambling includes casino-style games, horse races and lotteries. The amount of money legally wagered is estimated to be $10 trillion per year worldwide.
The biological motivation to gamble comes from a reward system in the brain, which is activated when we experience positive feelings, such as the enjoyment of food or time with loved ones. The brain also releases the neurotransmitter dopamine when we engage in risky activities, like gambling. In addition, some people may be genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity. These factors, along with personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions, can contribute to gambling disorder.
Many people start to gamble when they’re bored or looking for a way to relieve stress. But there are healthier and safer ways to manage moods, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.
Some people develop gambling disorders as a result of a medical condition, such as depression or anxiety, or because of a family history of these conditions. In addition, some medications can also contribute to gambling disorder by influencing the way our brains respond to rewards.
There are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorder, but several types of psychotherapy can help. Psychotherapy, which is a broad term for a variety of treatment techniques, can help individuals identify unhealthy emotions and thoughts that can lead to problem gambling. This form of therapy typically takes place with a trained and licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker.
Some people may not be aware that they have a gambling problem, but there are many warning signs to look out for. These include: