Gambling involves wagering money or other personal belongings on activities of chance that have uncertain outcomes. The term “gambling” also refers to skill-based games such as poker, horse racing and sports where knowledge can improve a player’s chances of winning. Gambling has a long history in all cultures, and has been seen as both a legitimate form of recreation and an illegal activity. Some people have difficulty controlling their gambling, resulting in negative consequences for themselves and others. These consequences may include: downplaying or lying to loved ones about their gambling behaviors; relying on other people to fund their gambling or replace money lost; and continuing to gamble even when it causes negative impacts on finances, work, education, and family relationships. Personality traits and coexisting mental health conditions may also contribute to gambling problems.
The term “gambling disorder” was introduced in the DSM-5 to describe a pattern of maladaptive gambling behavior that meets diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling (PG). It is important to note that PG differs from other types of problem gambling, such as regular or recreational gambling or impulsive buying and other shopping habits. It is important to recognize that a significant percentage of the population does not have a PG diagnosis. It is estimated that approximately 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet the criteria for a PG diagnosis, and most often this occurs during adolescence or early adulthood.
Like other impulse control disorders, pathological gambling can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people challenge negative beliefs about betting and teaches skills for managing cravings. Research has shown that long-term, intensive CBT treatment programs can help reduce gambling participation and improve functioning in individuals with a PG diagnosis.
Another way to treat a gambling disorder is to learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as boredom or stress. This can be done by exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends, and practicing relaxation techniques. It is also helpful to set money and time limits for yourself when gambling, and to never chase your losses.
Gambling is an impulsive behavior that can have serious, harmful effects on an individual and his or her family. It is associated with high rates of suicide and depression, substance use disorders, and other mental health conditions. It is also a major source of money laundering, and has been linked to organized crime.
The most effective way to address gambling disorders is through a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some of the most common medications for impulsive disorders, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, have been found to be useful in treating gambling disorders. Lastly, some people may benefit from psychodynamic therapy, which explores unconscious processes that influence behavior. This can be especially beneficial for those with a gambling disorder who have jeopardized a relationship or career because of their addiction. Regardless of which type of treatment is used, it is critical to address the underlying causes of the disorder. Longitudinal studies are an important tool for identifying factors that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation and thereby infer causality.