Gambling is placing something of value (typically money) at risk on an event involving chance and with the intent to win something else of value. Examples of gambling include betting on sports events, horse races, games of chance, instant scratch tickets, cards, video and slot machines, dice, and roulett. In most cases, skill and knowledge are not involved in winning a gamble, but the chances of success are much greater than in normal activities such as buying a lottery ticket or purchasing a raffle ticket.
Research on pathological gambling has demonstrated that this disorder can have severe consequences for individuals and their families. The comorbidity of pathological gambling with other mental health disorders, including substance abuse disorders, has been documented. In response to these findings, the DSM-5 has reclassified pathological gambling as an addictive disorder and has removed its illegal activity criteria in order to increase credibility of the diagnosis and promote screening and treatment for this condition.
Like other addictive behaviors, compulsive gambling can have several causes and triggers. Some people start gambling as a way to distract themselves from other problems or stressors, such as relationship difficulties, financial issues, work pressures, or the death of a loved one. Other people are genetically predisposed to develop a gambling problem. Several factors can also make someone more susceptible to gambling addiction, such as personality traits and coexisting mood disorders.
The DSM-5 also states that the signs and symptoms of gambling disorder are similar to those of other addictive behaviors, such as substance use, eating disorders, and sexual addiction. The DSM-5 recommends that a person who is concerned about a loved one’s gambling should encourage him or her to seek treatment, including psychotherapy. Psychotherapy refers to a variety of treatment techniques that are used with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker, and can help a person recognize and change unhealthy emotions and thoughts.
Many different theories have been advanced to explain why some people develop gambling disorders, and these varied views have stimulated debate and controversy. Some of these theories include recreational interest, diminished mathematical skills, poor judgment, cognitive distortions, and mental illness. Other explanations have centered on behavioral-environmental reasons, a general theory of addictions, and the reward deficiency syndrome.
Longitudinal studies have also been conducted in an effort to understand the onset, development, and maintenance of problem gambling behavior. Such research can provide important insights into the underlying causes of pathological gambling and can enhance the effectiveness of treatments.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat gambling disorders and break the cycle of compulsive gambling. To help someone stop gambling, it’s important to remove all financial incentives. This can be done by eliminating credit cards, limiting access to cash, closing online betting accounts, and having someone else handle money management for the person. It’s also crucial to address any underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can both trigger gambling problems and make them worse.