How to Break the Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a game of chance or skill in which you risk something of value, such as money or items, for the opportunity to win something else of value, like a prize or a jackpot. It can happen in casinos, racetracks, church halls, sporting events and on the Internet. People gamble for a variety of reasons, including socialization and the excitement of winning. However, for some people gambling becomes an obsession that causes serious financial and personal problems.

Many people who gamble do so responsibly and enjoy the experience without causing any problems. But for some people, the habit is very hard to break. Approximately two million Americans are addicted to gambling and for some, it interferes with their daily lives. Several studies suggest that there is a genetic component to the disorder and that it can be triggered by negative life experiences, such as depression or drug addiction.

The most common type of gambling is placing a bet on the outcome of a game of chance, such as a horse race, a lottery or a slot machine. The majority of these games are played in brick-and-mortar casinos, but they can also be found at gas stations, restaurants and other locations where money is exchanged for goods or services. Gambling can be done online as well, and some of these sites have mobile apps that allow you to place bets on the go.

Gambling affects the reward center of the brain, which is why some people become hooked on it. When you do something enjoyable, such as spending time with loved ones or eating a healthy meal, your brain produces a natural reward chemical called dopamine. This dopamine motivates you to do more of the activity, and over time you develop a tolerance. You need more of the pleasure-producing activity to get the same effect, and you seek it out even when it is harmful to your health.

A few factors contribute to the development of gambling disorder, including personality traits and coexisting mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Often, people with these disorders are impulsive and have difficulty making decisions that assess the long-term effects of their actions. They may also find relief from unpleasant feelings through gambling, such as stress and boredom. Consequently, they may continue to gamble to self-soothe these feelings, and their behavior can spiral out of control.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat gambling disorders. Behavioral therapy can help you identify and change unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors. There are no medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat gambling disorders, but some drugs may be helpful in treating coexisting conditions. Support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can provide support and guidance. You can also learn to deal with unpleasant feelings in healthier ways, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or taking up new hobbies. Lastly, you can take steps to limit your access to money, such as by getting rid of credit cards or by putting someone in charge of your finances.