Gambling is a form of entertainment that involves risk, chance and money. For some, it is a harmless pastime but for others gambling can be harmful. It can negatively impact mental health, relationships and performance at work or school, lead to serious debt and even homelessness. In addition, a link between gambling and suicide has been reported by Public Health England.
Many people who gamble do so to relieve unpleasant feelings or escape from an increasingly stressful reality. However, this relief is short-lived and can actually contribute to more stress in the long run. There are healthier ways to relieve boredom or self-soothe unpleasant emotions, such as exercising, spending time with family and friends who don’t gamble, or trying relaxation techniques.
The problem with gambling is that it hijacks the brain’s learning mechanisms, causing us to think that we can win by playing games of chance and forgetting that we will always lose money. This explains why some people find it so hard to stop gambling, despite the obvious harms. It also explains why men are more likely to develop gambling problems than women, perhaps because they spend less time with their families and tend to play more video and mobile games that involve micro-transactions and payments.
Psychiatrists treat people with gambling disorders and help them to recover. Despite the fact that it is very difficult to quit gambling, staying in recovery is possible. People who are recovering from gambling addiction should surround themselves with people to whom they are accountable, avoid tempting environments and websites, give up control of their finances (at least at first), and learn to socialise in other ways.
A lot of people who suffer from gambling problems feel a need to be secretive about their gambling activities, often feeling that others won’t understand or will get upset if they know how much they gamble. They might also feel a need to lie about how much they are losing, in order to keep their losses secret. This can cause a great deal of stress for those close to the person, especially their loved ones.
Several different types of psychotherapy can help people with gambling disorder. These include family therapy, group therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy, which explores how unconscious processes influence your behaviour. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently approve any medications to treat gambling disorders, but there are psychological therapies that can be used alongside medication for people with this condition. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior and replace them with more healthy alternatives. This is done through one-to-one sessions with a mental health professional and may include homework assignments between sessions. There are also self-help books and support groups that can be useful for people with gambling disorders.