Gambling is an activity in which something of value, usually money, is risked for the chance to win something else of value. This can be done with a variety of objects or events, including lottery tickets, scratchcards, cards, games of chance, horse races, dice, sports, and other activities. People who gamble do so because they want to increase their chances of winning a prize, or they enjoy the thrill of taking risks and hoping for a big payout. This type of behavior can also be a way to relieve stress. For some people, gambling becomes problematic, and it can cause harm to their health and relationships, hurt their performance at work or school, or put them in serious debt.
Mental health professionals have developed criteria that help them identify when someone has a gambling problem. The most widely used is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use to diagnose psychological problems. The latest version of the DSM lists Gambling Disorder alongside other addictive behaviors. The symptoms of this condition include:
DSM-5 notes that the number of people with pathological gambling has increased in recent years, and that men are more likely to develop the disorder than women. The disorder is characterized by maladaptive patterns of behavior, and it often begins during adolescence or early adulthood and gets worse over time. It affects a wide range of different activities and is most common in the context of online gaming, though some people report difficulties with strategic or “face-to-face” forms of gambling as well.
Research about the causes of gambling disorder is limited, but some evidence suggests that it may have a genetic component and is associated with other psychiatric disorders. Longitudinal studies are needed to better understand how gambling disorder develops and its impact on a person’s life. However, there are several barriers to conducting longitudinal studies of gambling disorder, including the need for substantial funding over a lengthy period of time; problems with maintaining research team continuity and sample attrition over time; and the knowledge that gambling behavior may change with age and periods of life when it is most difficult to study.
There are many treatment options for gambling disorder, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you recognize and change unhealthy gambling behaviors. Support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, can also be helpful. Getting regular physical exercise and spending more time with family and friends can also reduce the urge to gamble. If you’re struggling with gambling addiction, seek help immediately.