Is Gambling a Problem?

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event for the purpose of winning. Examples include playing card games and table games, placing bets on sports events or horse races, and using skill in the pursuit of a game’s outcome (e.g., knowledge of strategies can improve the chances of a winning hand or understanding of horses and jockeys can enhance predictions of probable outcomes in horse races). Whether or not gambling is considered to be a problem depends on a person’s individual situation, but the behavior is commonly characterized by a lack of control and excessive use of funds that are intended for other purposes.

Many people are drawn to gambling for social or financial reasons, or because they feel a rush of excitement when they win. However, some people develop a habit that becomes difficult to break and causes significant harm in their lives. While the exact cause of gambling addiction varies from person to person, it may be related to an early big win, boredom susceptibility, a false sense of control, impulsivity, the use of escape coping, and a variety of stressful life experiences.

There are several ways to address the issue of gambling, including family therapy, individual counseling, group support, and credit or debt management. It is important to find a counselor with experience in this area and who can work with both you and your loved one. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the gambler to take responsibility for their gambling behavior, but it is equally important to help them recognize that they are the only ones who can solve their own problems.

CU Boulder students and staff can schedule online counseling or psychiatry appointments with AcademicLiveCare, which is a free, easy-to-use platform that allows individuals to access virtual sessions with providers from anywhere. For more information about the services offered, please contact CAPS. In addition, we offer several community and support programs for students struggling with issues like substance abuse and gambling. Please call us or stop by during a “Let’s Talk” session to learn more about the resources and support available. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself or your loved one. Good luck! – Sarah L., MS, LMFT, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Colorado. She specializes in the treatment of problem gambling and provides education on the topic to both undergraduate and graduate students. She is also a certified therapist for the National Council on Problem Gambling. Her research focuses on the effects of problem gambling and its prevention on both the gambler and the wider community. She has published several articles on the subject and is a frequent speaker at conferences. She also serves on several editorial boards and review committees. Her contributions to the field of problem gambling have been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association with awards for outstanding research and service.