How to Prevent a Gambling Problem

A person gambles by placing something of value, often money, on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. The event can be a game of chance, like poker or roulette, or it can be a skill-based activity, such as bridge or sports betting. Gambling differs from other types of recreation in that there is a substantial risk involved and the chance of losing everything. In the United States, gambling is legal only in a limited number of jurisdictions. In many cases, gambling is illegal and carries severe criminal penalties.

In addition to the physical costs, a problem with gambling can have serious emotional and social consequences. It can damage relationships and interfere with work or school. It may lead to depression or anxiety and increase substance abuse. In some cases, it can even lead to suicide.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a mental health disorder characterized by recurrent maladaptive patterns of behavior related to gambling. People with PG experience significant distress and impairment in their functioning as a result of the behavior, and they often begin gambling in late adolescence or early adulthood. They may have a high comorbidity with other conditions, such as substance use disorders and affective disorders, and often report a more prominent problem with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, like blackjack and poker, compared to nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms, such as slot machines.

Those with a problem with gambling often believe that they are more likely to win than others or that certain rituals will bring them luck, or they may try to get back lost money by betting more, a phenomenon known as “chasing losses.” The American Psychiatric Association notes that chasing losses is one of the most common symptoms of a gambling disorder and can cause serious financial problems, including bankruptcy.

Gambling addiction is treatable. Behavioral therapy can help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps people with a gambling addiction by challenging their beliefs and thought processes that contribute to their gambling behavior. CBT also helps people identify and replace unhealthy coping strategies.

To prevent a gambling problem, limit the amount of money you gamble to a fixed amount each day and don’t spend money that is needed for daily expenses. Keep your gambling money in a separate envelope, so you don’t accidentally use it for other things. Also, avoid gambling when you’re feeling depressed or down, as this can make the urge to gamble stronger. Finally, never gamble with credit, and always stop when you reach your time or spending limits. Seek help for any underlying mood disorders, like depression or stress, that are contributing to your gambling addiction. Also, consider seeking peer support from a group like Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and includes a sponsor, a former gambler who can provide guidance. This is an important part of the recovery process. You can find a meeting near you here.