Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves risking something of value, such as money or material possessions, on an outcome of a contest of chance that is not under one’s control or influence. This element of risk and uncertainty has long given gambling a negative reputation. Traditionally, many governments have prohibited some forms of gambling and have strict regulations in place concerning other forms.

Compulsive gambling, or gambling disorder, is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the harm it causes. In addition to the financial losses, compulsive gambling can lead to social problems, such as family conflict and estrangement and legal troubles. In severe cases, it can even lead to homelessness and suicide. It is estimated that about 2 million people in the U.S. have a gambling problem, or about 1% of the population. Another 4-6 million people have mild or moderate problems; these individuals do not meet the DSM-IV criteria for a pathological gambling diagnosis but do experience significant distress or impairment as a result of their gambling behavior.

People can experience gambling problems from all types of gambling activities, including the lottery, casino games (e.g. slot machines), sports betting and other online gambling. Although no single type of gambling is more addictive than others, it is important to remember that all gambling involves some level of risk. Some people will never have a problem, but for those who do, it can be harmful to their physical and mental health, relationships, work or study performance, and can put them at risk of theft and fraud.

It is important for those who care about a person with a gambling addiction to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not alone. There are resources available to help, such as gambling treatment programs and peer support groups. For those who have a serious gambling problem, inpatient or residential treatment is recommended as it is often necessary to provide round-the-clock support.

Some research has indicated that gambling may be a function of impulse control, with an emphasis on sensation-seeking and novelty-seeking, similar to substance abuse. Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking in gambling suggests that individuals may be able to sustain gambling behaviors despite high probabilities of losing by focusing on the positive reinforcement associated with state of high arousal during periods of uncertainty, or the desire for complex and varied stimulation.

In addition, some research has suggested that gambling may be a coping mechanism for anxiety or depression. It is important for families to help their loved ones find other coping mechanisms and to encourage them to engage in more healthy activities, such as exercising, volunteering or spending time with friends. It is also helpful for families to establish boundaries around managing the household finances and credit, and to be vigilant against any attempts by their loved ones to justify their impulsive gambling behaviors with pleas like “just this one time.” It is also a good idea for family members to consider seeking support from other groups of peers, such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous.

Related Posts