Gambling involves risking something of value in the hope of getting something else of value, such as money. When gambling becomes a problem, it can be very difficult to stop. People with gambling problems may hide their behavior, run up debts, and even steal to support their addiction. Those with compulsive gambling may continue to gamble even after they have lost significant amounts of money. They can be driven by an intense desire to win back their losses and may become convinced they are due for a big jackpot payout.
There is a wide range of gambling behaviors, from those that pose a risk for developing more serious problem gambling (subclinical) to those that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for pathological gambling (PG). Research has shown that a high percentage of people who develop PG also have mood disorders or substance abuse problems.
For those who are at risk, there are a number of ways to reduce the likelihood of becoming addicted to gambling. For example, people should never gamble when they are depressed, upset, or in pain. People should also avoid chasing their losses, as this can quickly turn into a vicious cycle that results in larger and larger losses. People should also find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques.
For those who struggle with a gambling addiction, it is important to seek treatment. There are a number of options available, including individual and group therapy, self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, and cognitive behavioral therapy. It is also important to address any underlying mood disorders, as these can both trigger gambling and make it more difficult to quit.