Helping Someone With a Gambling Problem

Gambling involves wagering something of value, often money, on an uncertain event that is governed by chance. In addition, the event can only occur after a decision has been made to gamble and the gambler has possession of money or property with which to make the bet. A gambling event requires three elements: consideration, risk, and a prize. Throughout history, gambling has had both enthusiastic supporters and forceful opponents. While it has made some millionaires and brought moments of fantasy and grandeur to others, it also has wreaked financial ruin, crime, and devastation for many.

While most people think of a casino or horse race when they think of gambling, it actually occurs in a variety of settings and at all ages. In addition to the large casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, there are numerous state-licensed lotteries around the world and many online betting sites and video games have gambling elements for adults and children. In the United States, sports betting has become legal in 37 states and the lottery is widely available.

There are several ways to help someone with a gambling problem, including support groups, individual and family therapy, and residential treatment and rehab programs. One important step is acknowledging that there is a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit this, especially if your gambling addiction has cost you money or caused problems in your relationships. It is also helpful to address underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can trigger gambling disorder and cause it to worsen.

The causes of gambling problems vary by person and culture, but they can include recreational interests, diminished mathematical skills, poor judgment, cognitive distortions, mental illness, and moral turpitude. In recent years, the understanding of gambling problems has evolved, and this is reflected in the changes to the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling in the various editions of the Psychiatric Manual (called DSM).

Problem gambling can lead to debt, homelessness, incarceration, divorce, unemployment, creditor harassment, and other serious consequences. It is not uncommon for people with this problem to attempt suicide. A study found that roughly one in two problem gamblers will think about suicide and that one in five will attempt it. Family and friends of a gambler who is struggling should set boundaries in managing money, take control of family finances, review bank and credit card statements, and talk with a professional to discuss local referral resources such as certified gambling counselors and intensive treatment programs. In some cases, it may be necessary to seek a psychiatric hospital admission for the gambler. Inpatient psychiatric care can help treat comorbid mood disorders and teach the gambler healthy coping skills. Behavioral therapy is also effective. BetterHelp is an online counseling service that matches you with licensed, accredited therapists who can help with depression, anxiety, relationships, and more. Start by taking a free assessment and get matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours.

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