Recognizing the Signs of Problem Gambling


Gambling is the placing of something of value, usually money, on an event with an element of chance for the opportunity to win a prize. Various forms of gambling are legal in many states, including lotteries, horse races, dice games, slot machines, card games, poker, keno, bingo, sports betting and casino games such as blackjack and roulette. Online gambling sites also offer a variety of betting options, such as wagering on sporting events. Some people become addicted to gambling and lose not only their money but their jobs, families and lives. It’s important to recognize the signs of problem gambling and seek help when needed.

The term “pathological gambling” (PG) is used to describe persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of behavior that cause distress or impairment. It is estimated that 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet criteria for PG, which typically begins in adolescence or young adulthood. Males develop PG at a faster rate and at a younger age than females, and they tend to report problems with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling such as poker or blackjack. Females report problems with nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling such as slots or bingo.

A variety of factors may lead to pathological gambling, including genetic predisposition, certain environmental influences and changes in brain structures involved in reward processing and impulse control. The brain’s reward system is activated when playing gambling games, which can result in feelings of excitement and anticipation. These responses can interfere with one’s ability to make good decisions and to control their actions.

It’s difficult to resist the lure of gambling, but there are steps that can be taken to limit its impact on a person’s life. The first step is to build a strong support network. This can be done by reaching out to friends and family, joining a book club or other recreational activities, and volunteering for a worthy cause. It’s also helpful to seek out a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which uses the 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.

In addition to strengthening one’s support network, it is important to set time limits when gambling and not gamble on credit. Also, it’s a good idea to balance gambling with other enjoyable activities. Finally, it’s important to avoid chasing lost money because the more you try to get your money back, the higher the risk of losing more. It’s also a good idea to avoid gambling when you are feeling depressed, upset or in pain. The more you engage in gambling when you’re feeling down, the more likely you are to make bad decisions. In addition, avoiding alcoholic beverages when gambling can reduce the likelihood of problem gambling. This is because consuming alcohol can impair the decision-making abilities of some gamblers and increase their tendency to lose. Lastly, it’s a good idea to avoid gambling when you’re tired because your focus will be affected. Taking frequent breaks can improve your focus and your chances of winning.