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What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event whose outcome is determined by chance. The activity can involve any number of things, including horse races, video games, lottery drawings, and casinos. People who suffer from gambling addiction have a hard time controlling their impulses. They may feel compelled to spin the wheel or pull the lever on a slot machine even after they have lost money, and they find it hard to resist the urge to place a bet for “just one more spin.” Those with this disorder are also predisposed to other mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which can trigger gambling behavior or make it worse.

Although most adults and adolescents in the United States have gambled, a small subset develops pathological gambling. In the past, psychiatric professionals categorized this behavior as impulse control disorder, a fuzzy term that included such conditions as kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting things on fire). However, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, classifies pathological gambling as a behavioral addiction alongside substance abuse and other impulsive behaviors.

The reclassification of pathological gambling as an addiction reflects research showing that this condition is very similar to other behavioral addictions, including drug and alcohol abuse, in terms of symptoms, brain origin, comorbidity and treatment. It is also influenced by studies showing that gambling addiction is a treatable illness that requires specialized help.

It takes tremendous strength and courage to admit that you have a problem with gambling, especially when it has cost you money and strained or damaged relationships. Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone: Many families struggle with the same issue and are available to provide support. Moreover, there are numerous treatment options that can help you break the habit and regain control of your life.

Psychodynamic therapy: This is a type of psychotherapy that explores unconscious processes that influence your actions. It can be helpful for people who struggle with gambling disorder, as it can help them understand why they behave the way that they do.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This treatment teaches you to confront and overcome negative thinking patterns. It can help you stop blaming yourself for your gambling problems, as well as learn to deal with stress and boredom in healthier ways.

Group therapy: This is a type of psychotherapy where you meet with others who have the same issue and share your experiences. It can be motivating and supportive, as it can give you a sense of camaraderie.

Family and marriage counseling: This type of therapy can help you resolve issues caused by your loved one’s gambling disorder. It can also teach you how to set boundaries regarding managing the household finances and credit, which is an important part of preventing relapse. Marriage and family counseling can also teach you better communication skills and create a more stable home environment. For example, learning to communicate assertively can prevent you from becoming angry at your loved one when he or she is gambling.