Pathological Gambling

Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value (such as money or material goods) in the hope of winning additional money or items of value. It may take place in casinos, in lotteries, online or in private settings. It is a widespread international recreational activity, and in many countries it is legal. However, research has shown that gambling can be addictive, and compulsive or irresponsible gambling can cause severe financial and social problems.

The onset of pathological gambling is often associated with depression, and research has found that approximately 50% of problem gamblers have at least one mood disorder in their lifetime. Some studies have demonstrated that depressive symptoms are more likely to precede the onset of gambling, while others have found that they are equally as likely to follow the onset of gambling.

Regardless of the type of gambling being undertaken, the basic principle is the same: placing a bet on an uncertain event in the hopes of winning more money or materials of value. In the case of casino-style gambling, this involves placing a bet on a game of chance such as a roulette wheel or a slot machine. In some cases, the game being played is a card or board game such as poker, backgammon or cribbage.

There are various forms of gambling, ranging from those behaviors that put individuals at a higher risk for developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those behaviors that would meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition diagnosable criteria for pathological gambling. This chapter uses the term “disordered gambling” to refer to all behavior within this range.

A person who has a gambling disorder is attracted to gambling and is unable to control their urges or stop gambling even though it is causing them distress, family and work problems. The disorder may cause them to lie, spend more money than they have and steal in order to continue gambling. It can also affect their physical health, relationships and performance at work or study. In addition, it can lead to debt and even homelessness.

The best way to deal with an addiction to gambling is to seek professional help. There are many options available, including therapy and self-help groups such as Gam-Anon. Counseling can help people understand gambling and consider how it is affecting them and their family, but only the individual can decide to change their behavior. In some cases, medication may be needed to treat co-occurring conditions. For those who can’t quit gambling, reducing the amount they gamble is a good step. They should start by setting a limit for themselves on how much they can lose before entering a casino, and make it a rule not to play with credit cards. In addition, they should balance gambling with other activities and avoid chasing their losses, as the more they try to win their money back, the more they will probably lose in the end.