Whether they bet on a game of golf, purchase lottery tickets, or toss a coin in the air, most people gamble at one time or another. However, gambling is an addictive activity that may cause serious problems for some individuals and can affect many aspects of their lives, including work, relationships, and self-esteem.

The risk factors for gambling disorder include a history of repeated problem gambling and predisposing biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Symptoms of pathological gambling (PG) may be recognized when: a person gambles to escape from unpleasant feelings; gambles in order to relieve boredom or loneliness; or spends more money than they can afford. PG symptoms also include lying to family members, therapists, or others in order to conceal their gambling habits; and/or resorting to illegal acts, such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement, to fund their gambling.

Gambling is also associated with high levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates certain parts of the brain and is associated with pleasure and motivation. Over time, excessive gambling can desensitize the brain’s natural dopamine production so that it requires more and more gambling to get the same effect. This can lead to unhealthy cycles of compulsive gambling.

Dealing with a loved one’s gambling addiction can be emotionally exhausting and financially devastating. Consider family therapy or marriage, career, and credit counseling to help you address the specific problems caused by the person’s gambling and rebuild your relationship. Establish boundaries in how you manage household finances and limit access to credit cards to prevent the person from betting more than they can afford.