For many people, gambling is a recreational activity that provides enjoyment and relaxation. However, for some individuals, gambling can become an addiction resulting in problems such as loss of control and financial distress. The good news is that help is available.
Like other addictions, gambling disorder can be treated with psychotherapy. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment. CBT teaches patients to resist their urges and change maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. For example, someone with gambling disorder may learn to replace irrational beliefs such as the notion that a string of losses means they’re due for a win or that certain rituals increase their chances of winning. CBT can also help address coexisting mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
The DSM-5 moved pathological gambling into the category on behavioral addictions, which reflects research findings that it’s similar to substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, and physiology. The new section on behavioral addictions also includes a number of other impulse control disorders such as kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (fire-starting), and trichotillomania (hair-pulling).
The most important step in recovering from gambling disorder is admitting that you have a problem. Then you can take steps to seek treatment. In addition to self-help books and online support groups, there are a variety of inpatient or residential gambling addiction treatment programs. These are aimed at those with severe gambling addictions who cannot avoid gambling without round-the-clock support. Other treatments include family and group therapy, and psychodynamic therapy, which examines how unconscious processes influence behavior.