Gambling involves placing a bet on an event that is at least partly determined by chance with the intention of winning something of value. It is considered a vice when it leads to serious problems such as debt or homelessness. While most adults who gamble do so without problem, a small proportion of people develop gambling disorder, defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) as “a pattern of persistent, recurrent problematic gambling that is associated with distress or impairment.”1
People who struggle with compulsive gambling can often hide their behavior from friends and family members. They may even lie about the amount of time and money they spend on gambling or try to cover up their online activities. These behaviors can cause severe financial and psychological stress, leading to depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.
Approximately 1 million Americans (1%) meet the criteria for gambling disorder, but many more suffer from mild to moderate symptoms. Gambling problems can interfere with relationships, work or study, and harm physical health and well-being. They can also cause serious financial problems, lead to substance abuse and increase the risk of suicide. The good news is that there are many options for help, including therapy, medication and lifestyle changes.
The key to overcoming gambling is finding healthy ways to cope. Identifying triggers, such as alcohol or drugs, and avoiding them is a great place to start. For example, if drinking makes you want to gamble, you can make a plan to avoid bars or casinos. You can also try meditating or going for a run to reduce stress and improve your mood. It’s also important to surround yourself with supportive people, and to avoid high-risk situations. For instance, if your regular route to work passes a casino or you watch sports on TV for inspiration, you can change your routine by taking an alternate route or turning the channel.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach you how to fight urges and solve personal, work and family issues that are causing problems. It can also address underlying issues that contribute to gambling, such as depression or anxiety. In addition, it can change negative thought patterns that increase gambling, such as the illusion of control and irrational beliefs.
Keeping track of your progress and setting goals can help you stay on track. You can also practice mindfulness exercises, like deep breathing, to reduce stress and improve concentration. Getting involved in a hobby or community activity is also a great way to replace unhealthy coping behaviors and build self-esteem. Lastly, volunteering can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can fuel gambling urges. Choosing positive coping strategies will help you manage your gambling disorder for good.