Gambling involves risking something of value (money or personal belongings) for the hope of winning money, goods, services or other items of interest. It also requires a decision to gamble, the opportunity to gamble and some form of betting. While some people can gamble responsibly, others develop a problem with gambling. Problem gambling is a serious mental health disorder and should be treated.
Researchers are learning more about the brain mechanisms that may underlie gambling addiction. For example, it’s been found that those with gambling problems have smaller volumes in their amygdala and hippocampus, areas involved in emotions and stress regulation. Also, people with gambling problems tend to have a lower prefrontal cortex volume, which helps regulate impulse control and decision-making. These findings are helping to explain why certain people are more likely to have gambling problems than others.
Research has also shown that cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective for those with gambling disorders. This treatment helps people learn how to recognize irrational beliefs, like the notion that a string of losses or a near miss on a slot machine means an imminent win is just around the corner. It can also help people set limits in their gambling, such as limiting how much time and money they will spend each week, or only betting with their weekly entertainment budget.
It’s important to have a strong support system when dealing with gambling issues. Seek the support of friends and family, or join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.