Although most people who gamble do so responsibly, a subset of those who start gambling develops pathological gambling (PG), which is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent recurrent pattern of maladaptive behavior that causes substantial distress or impairment. PG usually starts in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common among men than women. It is also more common in those who begin to gamble for financial reasons – like winning a jackpot – than those who play for social or entertainment reasons.
Gambling can send massive surges of dopamine through your brain, giving you a rush of pleasure similar to the pleasure you get from eating or spending time with loved ones. But, over time, the surges can desensitize your brain to these feelings, making you need more and more gambling to feel the same feeling. This cycle can lead to harmful behaviors, including lying or stealing money to fund your gambling.
The first step toward breaking the cycle is admitting that you have a problem. It takes tremendous strength and courage to do this, especially if you have lost large amounts of money or damaged relationships as a result of your gambling habits. If you are ready to take the next step, a licensed therapist can help. Therapy can teach you skills to deal with your symptoms and improve your relationships. It can also address any underlying conditions contributing to your gambling disorder, like substance abuse or depression.