Whether you buy a lottery ticket, place a bet on horses or sports events, or use the pokies at a casino, gambling involves risking something valuable in order to win a prize. The risk can be large, and it can result in serious financial losses. However, there are also ways to gamble without losing control. You can learn to protect yourself by understanding the risks of gambling and what you can do to avoid them.
Gambling is a complex phenomenon, and researchers are still debating its nature. Some believe it is a disorder, while others believe it is simply an ordinary activity that can be enjoyable if done in moderation. The most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies pathological gambling as a behavioral addiction. This decision reflects new understandings of the biology of addiction, which is now believed to be a brain-related condition.
Research on the effects of gambling is undergoing a transformation, with longitudinal studies becoming increasingly common. These studies allow researchers to identify the factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s involvement in gambling. They can also establish causality, which is difficult to achieve with cross-sectional data. However, longitudinal studies face a number of challenges, including funding, maintaining research team continuity over a long period, and sampling problems (e.g., attrition).
It is important to recognize the warning signs of gambling addiction so that you can seek treatment before the problem becomes out of hand. These include:
Preoccupation with gambling; loss of control over gambling expenditures; lying to family members, therapists or others to conceal the extent of involvement in gambling; engaging in illegal acts such as forgery, fraud or theft to finance gambling; jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational or career opportunity due to gambling; and relying on friends or relatives for money to support a habit of gambling (American Psychiatric Association 2000).
Although it can feel like the only option, you should never agree to lend money to someone who has a gambling problem. This can lead to legal and financial difficulties for you. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with this problem, reach out to a support group. You will discover that you are not alone and that many families have faced this challenge.
Seek counseling to address underlying mood disorders. Depression, stress or substance abuse can trigger or make worse gambling problems. These issues will need to be addressed in order for the person with a gambling disorder to recover fully. Other types of therapy that can help include marriage, career and credit counseling. These therapies will teach the person how to cope with negative feelings and develop healthier coping strategies. It is also recommended that you learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in other, more healthy ways, such as exercising, spending time with family and friends who don’t gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques.