Recognizing Gambling Disorders

Recognizing Gambling Disorders

The majority of adults and adolescents have placed a bet, whether on a game of chance, a lottery ticket, a slot machine or a sports wager. For most individuals, gambling is an enjoyable social activity, but for a small percentage of people it becomes a serious problem. In extreme cases, the behavior can lead to adverse consequences ranging from financial difficulties to alienation of friends and family members. A subset of individuals who experience these adverse effects develops a gambling disorder, which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association as an intense urge to gamble that results in impaired control and excessive loss.

There are many types of gambling, including casinos, lotteries and online games that allow individuals to place bets with varying amounts of money from the comfort of their own homes. In addition, some states have legalized sports betting and there are even video games that include gambling elements. Regardless of the type of gambling, it is important to recognize the signs of a problem. Gambling problems can result in serious negative impacts on work, school and relationships.

A person with a gambling problem may exhibit a number of symptoms, such as: Using gambling as an escape from distressing feelings. Needing to gamble with higher amounts of money or valuables to experience the same level of enjoyment and excitement (tolerance). Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control or stop gambling behavior (withdrawal). Feeling restless or irritable when trying to avoid gambling (withdrawal). Chasing losses, or betting more than you have won in an attempt to recover past gambling-related losses (chasing).

Some people who struggle with gambling disorders may also benefit from psychotherapy. These techniques can help them gain a deeper understanding of their unconscious processes and how they influence behaviors. Individual therapy can also address specific issues that have been exacerbated by the behavior, such as marital conflict, job loss or credit problems. Some types of psychotherapy include psychodynamic therapy, a form of psychotherapy that looks at how unconscious patterns of behavior have influenced past behaviors, and group therapy, which offers motivational support and moral support from peers.

It is important to speak up about your concerns with a loved one who struggles with gambling and to encourage them to seek treatment early. The earlier a person seeks treatment, the more likely they are to overcome their gambling disorder. During these conversations, it is important to listen carefully and to be nonjudgmental. You can offer support by suggesting they call a gambling hotline, talk to a mental health professional or join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous. Additionally, you can suggest marriage and family counseling to help them refocus their lives. This type of therapy can also be helpful in strengthening their support network and creating a more stable home environment.