Gambling involves placing something of value, knowingly and with the intention of winning, on an uncertain event whose outcome may be determined by chance or accident. It is also a form of entertainment that provides excitement and suspense. Most adults and adolescents in the United States have placed a bet, from putting money on their favourite team to betting at a casino or online. But while most people enjoy gambling as a form of entertainment, a small percentage develop pathological gambling (PG), which is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as persistent recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that cause significant distress or impairment.
A few examples of PG include: (1) spending more than you can afford to lose; (2) lying to family members, therapists, or others in order to conceal your involvement with gambling; (3) gambling with the hope of getting back your losses; (4) jeopardizing employment, education, or personal relationships because of your gambling; and (5) using illegal acts such as forgery or theft to finance gambling. Often, these behaviors are the result of personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions.
Although many of us enjoy gambling as a social activity, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of other ways to have fun and meet new friends. Instead of going to a casino or betting on your favourite sports team, consider taking a cooking class, joining a book club, attending a music recital, or volunteering at a local charity. If you struggle with a gambling problem, seek help from a mental health professional. Psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy can help you gain greater awareness of the unconscious processes that underlie your gambling behavior, as well as strengthen your support network.