Gambling is an activity in which you bet something of value, such as your money or property, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event. It is a risky form of entertainment and can lead to serious financial problems. Most people gamble for fun and only with amounts they can afford to lose, but some people become addicted to gambling. It is important to recognize the signs of a gambling problem and seek help if you have trouble controlling your urges.
The earliest known gambling activities date back to the Paleolithic period in Mesopotamia, when six-sided dice were found that appear to have been used for a type of lottery. Later, the Greeks and Romans practiced a variety of games of chance. Modern state governments often use the proceeds of gambling to fund operations and programs, although they may restrict some forms of gambling or set limits on how much money can be won in each session.
A person may have a gambling disorder if he or she:
— Feels an urge to gamble even when it causes distress, anxiety, or other negative emotions. — Spends more time and money on gambling than on other activities. — Continues to gamble even after it affects his or her finances, work, education, or relationships. — Feels guilty or ashamed about gambling. — Attempts to hide his or her gambling habits from family members and therapists. — Commits illegal acts, such as forgery or theft, to finance gambling activities. — Relies on other people to help pay for gambling.
Problem gambling affects the reward center of the brain, which sends massive surges of dopamine—the feel-good neurotransmitter—to the body. These surges can disrupt the brain’s natural ability to make healthy choices, and can cause you to seek pleasure in less-healthy ways, such as gambling or overeating. Over time, your brain becomes desensitized to these surges and you need more and more to feel the same pleasure, which can eventually lead to addiction.
Treatment for gambling disorder includes psychotherapy, which involves talking to a mental health professional. Psychotherapy techniques vary, but they generally aim to help you identify and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors related to gambling. Your therapist can also treat any underlying conditions that contribute to your gambling disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
There are several types of psychotherapy that can help you overcome your gambling disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and group therapy. Group therapy teaches you how to support and motivate other people with similar issues, and can be especially helpful for those who are battling a gambling disorder alone. In addition to these therapies, you can try practicing self-control strategies, such as limiting the amount of money you have available for gambling, having someone else manage your credit cards, and closing online betting accounts. You can also seek peer support through groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous that helps you develop and maintain healthy coping skills.