Mental Health and Gambling


Gambling is the risking of something of value, such as money or goods, on an event that has the potential to produce a prize win. It can occur in casinos, racetracks, church halls, at sporting events and online. Some people gamble for fun, while others do it to relieve boredom, stress or anxiety. For those who struggle with gambling addiction, treatment is available.

Research has shown that there is a strong link between mental health and gambling. People who have mood disorders like depression, anxiety or substance abuse are more likely to gamble and have a harder time quitting. These conditions can also trigger or make worse gambling disorder, which is why it’s important to treat underlying symptoms.

Problematic gambling is characterized by an urge to wager, lose or risk more money than you can afford to lose. It affects your judgment, self-control and social relationships and can lead to debt problems. It also disrupts your work, family and sleep. It can lead to severe depression and even suicide, so it’s important to seek help if you suspect you or someone else has a gambling addiction.

Unlike other forms of recreation, gambling involves a real risk for an immediate reward. When you play a game of chance, your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel excited and happy. This surge of dopamine changes your brain chemistry and leads to a cycle of craving and chasing pleasure. Eventually, the surges of dopamine become less and less powerful, and you need to gamble more to get the same high.

People often gamble for a variety of reasons, including the desire to win big money, the excitement of playing a game and a way to socialize. It is possible to stop gambling, but it takes hard work and support from family and friends. There are many self-help tips for stopping gambling, including exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends and practicing relaxation techniques. It’s also a good idea to only gamble with disposable income and not with money you need to pay bills or rent.

If you have a gambling addiction, you can get help from a therapist or support group. Some options include psychotherapy, a type of talk therapy that helps you identify and change unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can be done individually or in a group, and it can be combined with other treatments, such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t approve any medications to treat gambling disorder, but several types of psychotherapy are effective. For example, psychodynamic therapy looks at unconscious processes that influence your behavior and aims to increase your self-awareness. Another option is group therapy, which provides motivation and moral support from other people with similar problems. You can also receive marriage, career and credit counseling to repair your relationships and finances.