Gambling Disorders

Gambling is the placing of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, contest, or uncertain event. It is a common human activity that has existed in nearly every culture since prerecorded history. It is a significant part of many local customs and rites of passage. It is a popular leisure activity for both men and women. While most individuals participate in gambling, a small subset become overly involved and develop a gambling disorder that is characterized by recurrent, problematic gambling behavior resulting in substantial negative personal, social, family, and financial consequences.

Although gambling may appear to be a fun and exciting activity, it is inherently risky. It requires a voluntary assumption of risk in exchange for a prize, and the outcome is based on chance with instances of strategy discounted. The risky nature of gambling is what makes it so alluring to some, and it can be addictive in ways that other drugs are not. People who struggle with compulsive gambling often experience depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. These issues can trigger problem gambling and be exacerbated by it, but they can also be treated by addressing the underlying conditions.

While gambling can evoke a broad range of feelings and emotions, there are some common themes in the psychological processes that contribute to its appeal and addictiveness. For example, the behavioral literature suggests that gambling is a form of behavioral disinhibition that involves a positive reinforcement loop. The reward from a win is immediate and large, while near misses or losses provide encouragement for future play by providing the gambler with a “taste” of the reward (Reid, 1986).

Individuals who are particularly vulnerable to developing a gambling disorder include those with low incomes, adolescents, and men, although anyone can be affected by it. It is estimated that up to 5% of those who gamble develop a gambling disorder. Vulnerability is higher in those with low incomes, who have more to lose if they lose and may try to make up for their losses by increasing their bet size or by taking more risks in an attempt to win back lost money. It is also more common among young people, and boys in particular, although women are increasingly being diagnosed with this condition.

Individuals who struggle with gambling disorders must learn to manage their symptoms in a variety of ways. For example, they can seek treatment for the underlying mood disorders that contribute to their gambling disorder, set boundaries in how they manage their finances, and review their bank and credit card statements. They can also consider seeking support from an addiction treatment program. These programs can help them learn healthier and more effective ways of relieving boredom, coping with stress and anxiety, and socializing. In addition, they can practice relaxation techniques and engage in other enjoyable hobbies that don’t involve gambling. In the end, they can also reclaim their life and achieve long-term recovery from gambling problems.