Gambling and Your Mental Health

May is mental health awareness month. The association between poor mental health and problem gambling is not frequently addressed, so let’s talk about it.

First of all, not all gambling is problematic. Controlled gambling can be a source of entertainment or social activity. However, gambling can become an addiction that requires professional intervention with a focus on recovery. Millions of Americans, and their loved ones, are impacted by problem gambling.  The good news is that recovery resources are plentiful and widely available.

What are mental health risk factors for problem gambling?  Mental health challenges such as depression, substance abuse, and anxiety are often associated with problem gambling.  Additionally, those people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also at elevated risk of developing a gambling addiction.

On the other hand, problem gambling can worsen or complicate mental health challenges.  Complications of problem gambling increase levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. 

How do I know if I, or someone I care about, has problem gambling challenges?  Gambling can be an addiction, and those who suffer from it often attempt to hide the addiction.  Signs include preoccupation with gambling, irritability or restlessness when cutting down on gambling, chasing losses, asking for bailouts, and resorting to theft or fraud for gambling money. Similarly to those with substance addictions, people with a gambling addiction have difficulty cutting back or stopping.

How can I help?  Problem gambling addiction can happen to anyone.  It is not a financial issue, so providing funds or paying off debts will not aid in recovery.  A gambler must WANT help.  Assistance and resources are available on the web from the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling and mdproblemgambling.com, and by phone at 1-800-GAMBLER. These sites provide help for gamblers themselves, loved ones, treatment professionals, and clergy.

Gambling becomes problematic when it compromises personal relationships, work, and resource management.  Problem gambling can result in severe financial and personal loss.  If you or someone you know faces gambling challenges, know that help is available and recovery is achievable.

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