Treating Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves risking something of value, usually money, on a random event that is uncertain. The outcome is determined by chance, and the chances of winning are based on the decisions you make about the event and how much risk you take. You can gamble in a number of ways, from betting on a sports team to buying a scratchcard.

There are many factors that can lead to gambling disorder, including coexisting mental health conditions such as depression or stress. It is also common for people who struggle with gambling to have a family history of the problem. Other risk factors include the availability of gambling in their community and access to credit.

Most adults and adolescents have placed some kind of bet, but only a small subset develops a pathological gambling disorder. The disorder is more prevalent among men, and younger people are particularly susceptible. It is also more likely to occur in people with lower incomes who have more to gain from a big win.

The disorder is a serious mental health condition that requires professional treatment. Several types of psychotherapy can help a person stop gambling and manage their gambling behavior. These treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It also includes teaching individuals to recognize and resist irrational beliefs, such as the notion that a string of losses or a near miss-such as two out of three cherries on a slot machine-signals an imminent win.

A major step in treating a gambling disorder is admitting that you have one. This can be difficult, especially if it has cost you money or strained your relationships with loved ones. However, it is the first step in overcoming your addiction and rebuilding your life.

Research has demonstrated that a combination of medications and psychotherapy can reduce the symptoms of gambling disorder. In addition to reducing the severity of their gambling behaviors, patients can learn healthier ways to cope with stress and improve their relationships.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any medication to treat gambling disorder, a number of psychotherapies can be effective. These include psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and behavioral therapy. In some cases, psychiatrists can prescribe medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines to help people with gambling disorders control their urges. If you have a loved one who has a gambling disorder, encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible. Suggest that they call a helpline, talk to a healthcare provider or therapist, or join a support group like Gamblers Anonymous. You can also offer your support without judgment, and listen thoughtfully to them when they discuss their problems. Practicing empathy can help your loved one feel heard and understood, which may increase their willingness to seek treatment.