Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event, such as a game of chance or a lottery draw, with the intent of winning something else of value. Examples of gambling include placing a bet, playing a casino game, or participating in an organized football pool. This activity is widespread and socially acceptable in many countries, but it can be harmful or addictive in a minority of individuals. A recent review of the literature has found that problem gambling may be a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, with both cognitive and psychobiological aspects.

A significant percentage of gamblers experience problem behaviours, such as a preoccupation with gambling, an inability to control gambling-related thoughts or feelings and the persistent use of unhealthy methods to control or suppress these symptoms (e.g., drinking alcohol). Some people who have trouble controlling their gambling engage in self-destructive behaviours, such as lying to family members and stealing or embezzling money to fund their habit. In addition, some people with an addiction to gambling suffer from coexisting mental health problems, such as depression or substance abuse.

Although the behaviour of gambling has a long history, it is only recently that it has grown into a global industry of nearly $10 trillion. The rapid growth of the gambling industry and the increased availability of Internet-enabled online casinos has given rise to an increase in the number of people with gambling problems. Problem gambling is often accompanied by other unhealthy habits, such as excessive alcohol and drug use, compulsive video gaming, and overeating.

While it is possible to overcome a gambling addiction with professional help, it is important for friends and family of gamblers to understand the disorder to be able to offer nonjudgmental support. It is also important to be aware of the relationship between gambling and depression, as stress and financial difficulty often trigger depression in some individuals.

The main causes of gambling disorders are a combination of cognitive and psychobiological factors. The cognitive approach argues that pathological gamblers continue to gamble because they possess erroneous beliefs about probability and gambling, leading them to over-estimate their chances of winning. For example, gamblers who play games involving genuine skill, such as blackjack, believe that their skills are more influential than the pure luck of the game, and develop an illusion of control over their odds of winning.

A number of different types of psychotherapy can help gamblers change their unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviours. These techniques, which are referred to collectively as psychotherapy, usually involve talking with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or clinical social worker. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration does not currently approve any medications to treat gambling disorder, but there are several psychotherapy treatments that have been shown to be effective. These therapies are typically short-term and involve group or individual therapy, education about healthy gambling practices, and lifestyle changes. People with gambling problems should also seek help from family and community organisations that specialise in depression and addiction.