Gambling Disorders – How to Recognize and Overcome a Gambling Problem

Gambling is a form of risk taking in which you stake something valuable (money or possessions) on the outcome of an event with a prize, such as a lottery or a casino game. Most people who gamble do so without problem, but a subset develops a gambling disorder that’s defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent, recurrent pattern of behavior that causes significant distress or impairment. This disorder is characterized by a compulsion to place bets and an inability to control the behavior.

While many people think of casinos and racetracks when they think of gambling, it can take place in a variety of places, including gas stations, church halls and sporting events. It can also be done online and through mobile apps that offer betting on sports, games or even virtual reality. Some of these apps are designed to mimic the experience of visiting a casino, but can be played from anywhere in the world.

Most people who gamble do so for entertainment. When you bet money on a football match, for example, the decision you make is based on ‘odds’ set by the betting company that indicate how much you could win. These odds are based in part on the chance that the event will happen, and in part on how much you want to win. When you get a win, your brain produces dopamine and rewards the action, encouraging you to try again.

However, when someone has a gambling addiction the behavior changes and becomes more about profit or escape than about having fun. Gambling hijacks the reward pathway in the brain, triggering dopamine responses similar to those produced by drug use. It can also become a way to meet emotional needs, especially in those with depression or other mood disorders that can trigger or be made worse by compulsive gambling.

Those with gambling problems often develop their habits in childhood, and they can be hard to stop. But it is possible to reclaim your life and overcome an addiction. One of the most important things is to strengthen your support network. You can do this by spending more time with family and friends, joining a club or class or finding an anonymous support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.

You should also seek help for any underlying mood disorders that can trigger or be made worse with compulsive gambling. Underlying mood disorders like depression, anxiety and stress are common among those who have a gambling problem and can lead to loss of employment, financial difficulties and even homelessness. It’s also a good idea to budget your gambling. It’s best to never use money that’s intended for basic expenses, such as rent and food, on bets. Also, make sure to remove your credit or debit card information from your phone and laptop so it can’t autofill on gambling sites. Finally, if you feel the urge to gamble, take yourself out of the situation by going somewhere you won’t have access to it, such as an empty casino or sports arena.