Gambling Addiction

Gambling is a recreational activity that involves placing something of value on a random event and hoping to win. In the United States, there are many ways to gamble: lotteries, horse racing, video poker, casinos, and sports betting. Whether it’s legal or illegal, gambling is popular worldwide. It is estimated that gambling generates more than $10 trillion per year in the world. Some people are addicted to gambling and need help. A person may have a gambling problem if he or she: (1) spends more than he or she can afford to lose; (2) lies to family members, therapists, or employers about the amount of money he or she has spent on gambling; (3) frequently gambles even when he or she is experiencing negative consequences such as relationship problems, financial difficulties, or job loss; (4) has used illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, embezzlement, or loan sharking to finance his or her gambling; and (5) is unable to control his or her gambling activities (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

A number of studies support a genetic basis for pathological gambling. In one study of identical twins reared apart, it was found that heritability of a recurrent pattern of impulsive behavior involving gambling was approximately 50 percent (Winter and Rich, in press).

In the past, European colonists brought traditional gambling traditions to the United States, including horse racing, cockfighting, and bull baiting. In the latter, a bull was tethered in a pit and surrounded by dogs. The spectators would bet on how many of the dogs the bull gored.

Many people start gambling as children and continue to do so throughout their adult lives. Adolescents who have a problem with gambling often lie to their parents about their addiction or hide their gambling. They also tend to be more impulsive than adults, and they are less likely to control their emotions.

Gamblers develop a unique personal philosophy influenced by their perspectives on luck, probability, morality, and practicality. This philosophical framework can create distortions in their thinking, which may lead to erroneous conclusions about the likelihood of a certain outcome. One example is the gambler’s fallacy: the mistaken belief that a series of random events, such as coin flips, are influenced by earlier results.

The reward center of the brain is stimulated by healthy behaviors such as spending time with a loved one, eating a nutritious meal, or playing a sport. When you engage in these activities, your body releases dopamine, which makes you feel happy. As a result, you want to do more of these things. When you gamble, however, the odds are against you, and your body responds with a different chemical: adrenaline. Consequently, it is difficult to stop gambling once you begin. This is why it’s important to have a plan in place. Ideally, you should seek help from a trained professional before it’s too late. These professionals can offer you a range of services, including family therapy, marriage, career, and credit counseling.