Gambling is an activity that involves placing a wager on a game or event with the intent of winning something of value. It excludes instances of strategy and involves three factors: consideration, risk, and prize. For a game to be considered gambling, it must have all three elements. If a game involves risk, then the reward must be worth more than the sum of its stakes.
Problem gamblers experience an acute stress response while gambling, which is associated with increased production of catecholamines and pituitary-adrenal hormones. Problem gamblers also have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol during gambling, similar to those of people who experience acute stress. These elevated levels, however, may persist for long periods of time.
According to the DSM-IV-J, there are roughly 4.7% of Americans who have a gambling problem. These individuals have higher risk factors than non-gamblers, including having parents with gambling problems and engaging in illegal activities. Additionally, there are significant gender differences in gambling activities. Males tend to engage in more activities than females, and tend to be more interested in sports lottery tickets and sports pool betting. By contrast, females are attracted to bingo and lottery tickets.
Problem gambling is a disorder that can negatively impact a person’s personal and professional life. This condition often runs in families and has similar symptoms to substance abuse. In fact, neurochemical testing has shown that gambling activates the same reward system in the brain as alcohol and other drugs. This may explain why compulsive gamblers often report feeling “highs” and cravings after engaging in the activity. People with gambling disorders are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and rely on other people to bail them out of financial trouble.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem and requires treatment to help a person quit the habit. The first step is identifying the signs of gambling addiction. While some of these symptoms are similar to those of drug or alcohol addiction, others can be more pronounced. People who are addicted to gambling experience restlessness, irritability, and even depression when they are not able to indulge in gambling. This addiction is a result of a person’s obsession with the activity and the underlying “need” to win.
If you or a loved one is suffering from gambling addiction, it’s important to seek help. Treatment for gambling addiction is very similar to that for other substance use disorders. It typically includes psychotherapy, medications, and self-help groups. Depending on the severity of the gambling addiction, the treatment may be residential or outpatient.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) provide nine or more hours of structured therapy every week and allow patients to work around their own schedules. These programs often serve as a step-down from residential rehabs. They also act as a preventative measure to keep patients from needing higher-level care. Research shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medications for gambling addiction, and several techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and systematic exposure therapy can help individuals decrease their urge to gamble.
Another important part of treatment is education and support from peers. Group therapy helps addicts identify triggers and develop new coping methods. It also helps addicts learn how to avoid relapse and become free of gambling.