Amid the soaring popularity of sports betting and legalized gambling across the United States, it’s never been easier to place a bet. Once confined to casinos concentrated in cities such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, people can gamble around the clock from a wide range of devices, including computers, phones and tablets. People can also play video games with gambling elements and participate in state lotteries. And in a sign of how ubiquitous gambling has become, many children and teenagers are starting to do so at younger ages than ever before.
A person’s decision to gamble is a personal choice. However, for some people, gambling can become a harmful habit. Pathological gambling (PG) is a behavioral disorder that affects 0.4-1.6% of Americans. Those with PG often begin gambling in adolescence or early adulthood and develop problems several years later. PG is more common among males and less likely to be diagnosed in women. It is more common in strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling such as poker and blackjack than in nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms such as slot machines and bingo.
Gambling is a complex activity involving a combination of chance, skill and judgment. Those who have a problem with gambling often have difficulty separating these components. They may lose control of their spending, despite the fact that they are aware that gambling is risky and can lead to financial problems. They may have a tendency to chastise themselves for losing, and they often have negative thoughts about others who gamble.
The key to avoiding a gambling addiction is knowing your limits and sticking to them. It’s important to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose and not money that you need for bills or other necessities. It’s also important to set a budget and stick to it.
It is also important to find healthier ways of dealing with unpleasant feelings. If you tend to gamble when you are feeling lonely or bored, try exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or trying new hobbies. In addition, learn to recognize the signs of a gambling urge and take action quickly by calling someone or leaving the casino. Finally, make sure you don’t keep any credit cards or other accounts associated with your gambling activities and only carry a small amount of cash.
In addition to these steps, it is helpful to join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also helpful to engage in physical activities, such as jogging or yoga, and to make healthy lifestyle choices, like eating more nutritious foods and getting enough sleep. Lastly, seek professional help through an inpatient treatment program or rehab. The most effective treatment is one that addresses all aspects of the problem and provides round-the-clock care. Research shows that these programs have a greater likelihood of success than treatments that are based only on medications or behavioral therapy.