Gambling 101


Gambling is the act of putting something of value, such as money, at risk for the chance to win a larger amount. A variety of activities can be considered gambling, including lottery tickets, bingo, casino games such as blackjack, poker and roulette, sports betting, horse racing, dice, and more. The American Psychiatric Association classifies pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

The prevalence of pathological gambling in the United States is estimated to be between 0.4-1.6% of the population. Those with the disorder develop it during adolescence or early adulthood, and tend to report a greater problem with nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as slot machines and bingo, than with strategic or face-to-face games, such as blackjack and poker. Historically, the psychiatric community has viewed PG as more of a compulsive behavior than an addiction. However, in its latest edition of the DSM, the APA officially classified it as an addictive disorder, along with kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair pulling).

There are several ways to get help for gambling problems. Many people find that attending group support meetings is helpful, such as those offered by Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition, individual and family therapy can be helpful in addressing specific issues created by the gambling addiction.

One of the most effective ways to overcome a gambling problem is to focus on other pursuits, such as hobbies and social activities. This can be accomplished by increasing interactions with friends and family, enrolling in a recreational course, taking up a new sport or activity, or volunteering for a worthy cause. Additionally, it is a good idea to avoid using gambling as a substitute for dealing with depression or other emotional problems.

If you are going to gamble, only do so with what you can afford to lose. It’s also important to set limits in terms of time and money. Finally, never chase your losses; thinking you’ll be lucky again and recoup what you lost is called the gambler’s fallacy, and it almost always backfires. Additionally, you should not use gambling as a way to make money; it’s not a reliable source of income and can lead to bigger problems down the road. If you’re experiencing financial or other problems caused by your gambling habit, seek help from a counselor. A therapist can provide you with tools and strategies to deal with these problems, as well as refer you to other professionals for marriage, career or credit counseling as needed. A therapist can also teach you to cope with stress and anxiety without resorting to gambling or other addictive behaviors. You can also join a support group for problem gamblers to gain insight and support from others who have successfully overcome their own addictions. These groups often meet in person or through the Internet, and include former addicts who are now responsible citizens who help others recover from their own gambling addictions.