Gambling Problems


Gambling is risking something of value (money or possessions) on an event that is at least partly determined by chance and involves the hope of winning. It is a form of recreation and can be enjoyable, but for some people gambling has serious negative consequences that may affect their physical and mental health, their relationships, their work or study performance, or leave them with debts that can lead to homelessness.

Many types of gambling exist, and people who enjoy it may be tempted to spend more money than they can afford to lose. For some, it becomes an addiction and may cause them to lie, steal or even become involved in criminal activity. Problem gamblers may also find themselves in financial distress as a result of their habit, and their families and friends may suffer financially as well.

It is important to recognize a problem with gambling and seek treatment as soon as possible. The earlier the issue is addressed, the more likely it is to be successfully resolved. Gambling can be addictive to both men and women, and it often starts during adolescence or young adulthood. Some people with gambling problems are able to stop on their own, but others need help.

Pathological gambling, or PG, is a condition characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors that meet diagnostic criteria in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It appears that between 0.4 and 1.6% of Americans meet PG diagnostic criteria, and it is more common in males than in females. PG typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and is more prevalent in nonstrategic forms of gambling, such as slot machines and bingo.

There are a variety of treatments for PG, but it is crucial to identify and treat any underlying mood disorders that may be contributing to the behavior. Depression, anxiety and stress can trigger or worsen gambling addictions and make it difficult to break the habit.

Behavioral therapy can help a person overcome a gambling problem by teaching them healthier ways to cope with unpleasant emotions. For example, people who gamble frequently as a way to relieve boredom can learn to replace that habit with activities like exercising, socializing with friends who do not gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.

It is also helpful to try to understand the motivations behind gambling. For instance, some people are predisposed to gamble because of their genetics or environment, and they can develop a gambling disorder due to stressors in their lives. Longitudinal studies allow researchers to track the effect of gambling on individuals over time and can identify factors that increase or decrease a person’s likelihood of gambling.

The earliest evidence of gambling dates back to ancient China, where tiles have been found that appear to be a rudimentary game of chance. In addition, the Psychiatric Association has classified gambling as an impulse-control disorder, which is similar to kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). The APA’s decision to move PG into this category reflects new knowledge of the biology of addiction.