Gambling is a form of entertainment where an individual wagers something of value on a random event with the intent to win something else of value. The odds of winning are usually calculated as a percentage of the money wagered. Those who gamble compulsively may find themselves losing control of their spending and even their lives. They may experience a number of negative effects such as poor health, family problems, depression and financial difficulties. Those who are affected by gambling addiction can find relief through various treatment options including behavioural therapy and psychotherapy. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of gambling addiction and how to seek help.
Many people use gambling as a way to self-soothe unpleasant feelings, unwind or socialise, but it is important to recognise that these are not healthy coping mechanisms and that there are healthier ways of dealing with these emotions. According to Counselling Directory, some warning signs of a gambling problem include missing work or school, spending more time than usual at a casino or other gambling venue, lying to friends and family members, stealing money to fund gambling habits, hiding gambling activity from others and losing interest in other hobbies.
The most effective treatments for gambling addiction are cognitive-behavioural therapy and psychotherapy. CBT is a time-limited form of psychotherapy that teaches individuals to change their thoughts and behaviours and respond to urges in a healthier way. Studies show that CBT improves gambling outcomes and illusions of control and is effective in treating those who are addicted to gambling, regardless of age (Ladouceur et al., 1994; Ison, 1995a). Cognitive-behavioural therapy can be delivered as weekly one-on-one sessions for three months to youth aged 17 to 19 years and as weekly group sessions over four or six weeks to college students. Psychotherapy can be effective in addressing the issues that lead to gambling addiction, such as low self-esteem and difficulty forming romantic relationships. Psychotherapy can also address irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a string of losses or a near miss (such as two out of three cherries on a slot machine) is an indicator of an imminent winning streak.
Educating young people about the risks of gambling can also be beneficial. This can be done by explaining the odds of winning in a way that they can understand, such as comparing it to their chances of being hit by lightning. It is also a good idea to teach children to leave their credit cards at home when they go out, as this can reduce the temptation to gamble.
Another key element of overcoming gambling addiction is developing a support network. This could be as simple as talking about your gambling addiction with a friend or family member who will not judge you. It is also a good idea to join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and can provide valuable advice and encouragement. Other ways to strengthen your support network include finding new hobbies, exercising, visiting non-gambling friends or joining a sports team or book club.