Whether buying a lottery ticket, betting on sports events, or playing online pokies, gambling involves the exchange of money for goods or services with an uncertain outcome, at least partly determined by chance. Some people develop gambling disorders that cause harm, but many do not. The good news is that more effective treatment is now available than ever before. And more research on the effects of gambling is underway than in the past.
In the past, psychiatry viewed pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, which included kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (setting things on fire). However, in a move that has been described as “landmark” and “game changing,” the American Psychiatric Association recently moved the condition to the chapter on addictions in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
The DSM-5 also describes a new category of disorder called e-gambling disorder. The disorder is characterized by the use of electronic devices, such as computers or mobile phones, to place bets and win prizes. This type of gambling is gaining popularity, especially among young people, because it can be done anonymously and at any time of day or night.
While the DSM-5 does not include a specific medication for e-gambling disorder, several types of psychotherapy can help. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy helps people identify and change unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A person might learn new ways to relieve boredom or self-soothe unpleasant emotions and find healthier activities for spending time with friends. A psychiatrist or therapist can also teach a patient how to handle stress in healthy ways.
Other techniques may also be helpful, including group therapy and family therapy. For example, a therapist can help a person with gambling disorder explain the problem to his or her loved ones and encourage them to support him or her. In addition, psychodynamic therapy can help people understand how unconscious processes might influence their behavior.
Another way to help treat a gambling addiction is to change the way one thinks about gambling. For instance, a person might focus on how much fun he or she is having and not on the risk of losing money. A person might also set money and time limits when gambling, and never gamble with money that is needed to pay bills or rent.
Finally, a person might consider seeking help for any underlying mood disorders that are contributing to the problem. Depression, anxiety and other mood problems can both trigger gambling addictions and make them worse. Seeking treatment for these conditions can reduce the urge to gamble and help people stay on track with their recovery goals. Moreover, addressing these issues can also improve overall quality of life.