The Psychology of Gambling


Gambling is an activity in which people wager money or something else of value on the outcome of a game of chance, such as a football match or a scratchcard. Those who predict the outcome correctly win money, while those who are wrong lose it. There are many different types of gambling, and people gamble for a variety of reasons. For example, some people may play to relieve stress or socialise with friends, while others do it for the potential of winning big. However, for some people, gambling can become a problem and damage their physical and mental health, cause family and work problems and even lead to financial difficulties and homelessness.

The understanding of problem gambling has undergone a profound change in recent years. Previously, individuals who experienced negative consequences from gambling were viewed as having gambling problems; today, they are understood to have psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety. This shift has influenced the way psychiatrists treat gambling problems and is reflected in, or stimulated by, the development of the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Unlike other forms of recreation, such as sports or reading, which can be enjoyed without incurring any significant costs, gambling involves wagering with real money or items of value. This difference, and the fact that gambling has a strong psychological component, have made it a topic of intense interest to researchers, therapists, and psychiatrists. These groups often frame questions about gambling in a variety of ways, depending on their disciplinary training, experience, and world view.

In addition to assessing a person’s risk for developing a gambling problem, effective treatment usually includes psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy can help an individual learn how to recognize and challenge irrational beliefs that underlie problem-gambling behaviors, such as the notion that a series of losses or a near miss—such as two out of three cherries on a slot machine—signals an imminent win.

CBT can also teach an individual coping strategies, such as mindfulness, which is the ability to focus on the present moment and reduce the impact of stressful situations or thoughts. In addition, CBT can help a person explore any underlying issues that might contribute to their gambling behavior, such as anxiety or depression.

If you know someone who has a gambling problem, it is important to encourage them to get help. Talking to a therapist can be an important first step, and BetterHelp can connect you with licensed, accredited therapists who are experts in helping people overcome addiction. To start, take our short assessment, and we will match you with a therapist who is best suited to your needs. It’s free and confidential. Click here to get started. wikiHow Contributors, 2019. All rights reserved.