Understanding Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves wagering something of value, often money, on a random event with the hope of winning a prize. This activity can range from the purchase of lottery tickets by people with very little money, to sophisticated casino gambling by wealthy individuals in search of profit or as a pastime. In some cases, the skill of the bettor may improve the odds of winning a game, such as blackjack, but the final outcome is still determined by chance.

A number of psychological factors can contribute to a person developing a gambling problem. These can include recreational interest in gambling, poor judgment, low mathematical skills and a tendency to make risky decisions. Gambling can be a dangerous and addictive activity, causing serious financial problems and personal distress. People with a gambling addiction often experience difficulty in maintaining relationships, work and their families. Their lives can be dominated by their obsession with gambling, and they may steal money or commit fraud to fund their habit.

For some people, gambling can become an effective way to relieve unpleasant feelings and boredom, such as after a stressful day at work or following an argument with their spouse. It can also be a way to socialize with friends and family members. However, there are healthier and safer ways to relieve negative emotions and boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble or practicing relaxation techniques.

Many people with a gambling addiction feel a need to hide their behavior from others, including lying about how much they spend or avoiding telling their families that they are struggling. Some people also develop a compulsive urge to continue gambling even after they have lost large amounts of money, often increasing their bets in a desperate attempt to win back what they have already lost.

The understanding of gambling disorder as a mental illness has undergone radical changes in recent years. Previously, it was believed that a person who experienced adverse consequences from gambling had a physical or chemical problem. This shift was influenced by the evolving clinical description of pathological gambling in the different editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Today, experts agree that the underlying cause of gambling disorders is psychological in nature. This view is based on a variety of studies, including research on people in treatment for gambling disorders as well as on the similarities between pathological gambling and substance abuse. It is a perspective that has been widely accepted by researchers, psychiatrists and other treatment providers. It has also been endorsed by the public, including legislators and health care professionals.