The act of placing a wager on the outcome of a random event with the intent to win something of value. Gambling can include games of chance (like a coin flip or a lottery ticket) and activities that require skill, such as sports betting or card playing. Although some people enjoy gambling for social, recreational or even professional reasons, some individuals develop a problem. The behavior is characterized by compulsive, irresponsible, and irrational urges to gamble. In some cases, the problem can have serious financial consequences.
While the causes of pathological gambling are unknown, research suggests that it is a medical disorder. In a study published in the October 2000 issue of “American Psychiatric Association”‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), researchers concluded that individuals with this condition are characterized by: (1) lying to family members, friends or therapists about the extent of their involvement in gambling; (2) engaging in risky sexual activities or other illegal behaviors to finance gambling; (3) being unable to control impulses to gamble; (4) feeling intensely negative emotions when losing money and attempting to recover it; and (5) jeopardizing or even destroying relationships, careers, educational opportunities, or a sense of self-worth as a result of gambling.
Many people develop a gambling disorder because of family history, adverse childhood experiences, or problems with drug or alcohol use. The behavior is also linked to certain personality traits and neurobiological conditions. For example, some studies of identical twins suggest that genetic factors are more important in the development of gambling disorder than are environmental influences. Other evidence suggests that the disorder can be triggered by stressful life events, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
A person who becomes addicted to gambling may develop other psychological and emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety. Some also struggle with a lack of self-esteem. Although these problems are not related to gambling, they can complicate efforts to quit the habit.
Gambling is often a powerful reinforcer. For example, the ringing of cash registers and clanging of coins in slot machines are powerful stimuli that increase the likelihood of making a bet and the intensity of gambling activity. It is also possible that a person who repeatedly loses large amounts of money experiences a loss of gratification and becomes motivated to continue gambling in the hope of recovering those losses.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve medications to treat gambling disorders, several types of psychotherapy can help. These treatments involve talking with a licensed mental health professional and identifying unhealthy emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They can also teach coping skills and offer support. For instance, a counselor can suggest ways to deal with stress and offer other healthy ways to spend time, such as exercise or joining a support group like Gamblers Anonymous. The counselor can also help a person set boundaries in managing finances and establish other protective measures.