How to Treat Gambling Addictions

Gambling is an activity where a person risks something of value, usually money, on an event whose outcome is uncertain. It can be done legally or illegally, and in a wide variety of settings. Some forms of gambling are recreational, while others are more serious and involve a higher risk. Gambling can be addictive, and compulsive gamblers may experience severe financial or social problems.

The first step in treating a gambling problem is admitting that there is a problem. It takes strength and courage to do so, especially if the person has lost large amounts of money or has strained or broken relationships because of gambling. Seeking help is the next step. Professional counseling can be helpful in breaking the cycle of gambling and dealing with the underlying issues that drive it. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can teach people new coping skills and provide tools that will last a lifetime to manage gambling urges and prevent further harm. Treatment can also include therapy for any co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety.

A gambling addiction is a complex problem that affects the brain, emotions, and behaviors. It can be difficult to identify and treat, but the good news is that recovery is possible. The most important factor is staying in recovery, which requires a strong support network and making a commitment to stop gambling. It’s also important to set boundaries in managing money and to find healthy activities to replace gambling. This is easier said than done, especially since gambling is available all day, every day on the internet and in casinos.

Pathological gambling (PG) is an uncontrollable and recurrent pattern of maladaptive gambling behavior. It usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood and develops over time. It is more common in men than in women, and it tends to be more prevalent in those who began gambling at a younger age. Males with PG are more likely to report problems with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack or poker, while females with PG tend to have more difficulty with nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as video poker or slot machines.

There are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders. However, some medicines may help treat co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety. Treatment can also include therapy and other modalities such as family or group counseling. Support groups can be particularly useful for those struggling with a gambling addiction because they allow members to interact with other people who are facing similar challenges. The 12-step program Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, can be very effective in helping people overcome gambling addictions.

A person who has a gambling disorder can take steps to stay in recovery by keeping a close eye on his or her finances, surrounding himself or herself with people who will hold him accountable, avoiding tempting environments and websites, and taking control of money management by closing accounts, putting someone else in charge of payments, and limiting access to credit cards.