Gambling happens when you stake money on something that has the potential for a prize win. It’s more than just a game of chance—it can also involve skill and knowledge. For example, bets on sports and horse races are a form of gambling. People often think of casinos and racetracks when they think of gambling, but it also can happen at gas stations, churches, or even online. Some types of gambling are illegal, while others are legal in certain states and countries.
Gambling sends massive surges of dopamine through your brain, but these chemicals can have unhealthy effects if you use them too frequently or for the wrong reasons. They can cause you to seek out pleasure from other activities, like spending time with friends who don’t gamble or doing exercise, or they can make you feel depressed and anxious.
Behavioral treatments for gambling disorders focus on changing the way you think about betting and how you act when you want to gamble. They may also help you learn healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings. The most common psychological treatment for gambling disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps you unlearn negative and obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and learn more healthy ones. It can be used alone or with other types of psychotherapy, such as motivational interviewing.
Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling can be helpful if you have trouble managing your finances or maintaining relationships because of gambling. Seeking help for underlying mood disorders, such as depression, stress, or substance abuse, can also improve your ability to manage your gambling problems.