Gambling is the act of placing something of value on a random event, typically for money. This includes betting, gaming and participating in lotteries. People who gamble often risk more than they can afford to lose. Some types of gambling are illegal in some countries. There is a long history of prohibition and control of gambling on moral, religious or practical grounds, as well as to preserve public order and prevent people from wasting time and energy on games of chance when they could be pursuing more productive activities.
The psychiatric community generally has viewed pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction, but in recent years the APA has moved it to the chapter on behavioral addictions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This move was based on studies in psychology, neuroscience and genetics showing that pathological gambling shares many similarities with substance-related disorders.
Whether or not someone has a gambling problem, the urge to gamble can have serious consequences. Some people can stop the behavior on their own, and counseling is available to help with this. Counseling can also address other factors that may contribute to the gambling behavior, such as depression or anxiety. Support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, can provide peer support to help with the recovery process. In addition, physical activity has been shown to be helpful in reducing the urge to gamble.
There are a number of risk factors for developing a gambling disorder, including family history, trauma, social inequality, gender, and age. The onset of symptoms can be as early as adolescence or later in life. In general, men are more likely to develop a gambling problem than women. Symptoms of a gambling disorder include:
In addition to the symptoms described above, some people with pathological gambling exhibit a variety of other behaviors that indicate a problem. These can include: lying to family members, therapists, or others in order to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling; jeopardizing or losing a relationship, job, education, or career opportunity in order to fund gambling; repeatedly returning to gamble despite losses; and/or engaging in illegal activities to finance gambling. In addition, some people with gambling disorder will spend more and more of their time gambling than they can afford to do. This can lead to financial crisis, debt, and even bankruptcy. In some cases, these behaviors may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. In these situations, it is critical to seek professional help as soon as possible. This can include contacting a counselor or attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. A national helpline is also available at 1-800-662-HELP. This is a free, confidential service and is available 24/7. Psychiatric medications are not currently approved for the treatment of gambling disorder, but they can be used in conjunction with other treatments. In some cases, psychodynamic therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful in addressing the underlying issues contributing to the gambling behavior.