Gambling Addiction

The act of betting something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the hope of winning a prize. Gambling is a form of speculative activity that can involve many kinds of bets and games, including lottery, bingo, and sports betting. It is considered to be a psychologically addictive behavior by some people.

Some gamblers are so heavily involved in gambling that they lose control and suffer adverse consequences, such as lying to family members, therapists, or employers to conceal the extent of their involvement; jeopardizing employment, educational opportunities, or relationships; committing illegal acts, such as forgery or fraud, to finance their activities; spending more and more time gambling and losing track of other important responsibilities; consuming alcohol or using drugs to enhance the enjoyment of gambling; or suffering financial difficulties due to their involvement in gambling (American Psychiatric Association 2000). Those with pathological gambling disorder often feel depressed, guilty, anxious, or helpless when they are not gambling. They may be unable to function in their job or relationships and have difficulty sleeping. They are also more likely to experience family and legal problems due to their addiction.

In the past, psychiatric professionals generally considered gambling an impulse control disorder rather than an addiction; it was classified along with other such disorders as kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (setting things on fire), and trichotillomania (hair pulling). However, in the 1980s, when updating its diagnostic manual, the American Psychiatric Association decided that pathological gambling is an addiction. It was placed in a separate chapter of the manual, titled Addictions, along with other disorders such as substance abuse and kleptomania.

Although gambling has been a popular pastime for centuries, the underlying factors that make it an addictive activity have not been well understood. One factor is the role of irrational beliefs, such as the belief that a sequence of losses signals an impending win. This belief is a key component of compulsive gambling and can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people to resist irrational thoughts and behaviors.

Another important element is the availability of money for gambling. To combat this, people with a gambling problem can reduce their access to credit cards, have someone else in charge of paying their bills, limit their online betting accounts, or sign up for a peer support program such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition, they can learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, and practicing relaxation techniques. They can also seek treatment for any underlying mood disorders, such as depression or stress, that could trigger or worsen their gambling behaviors. Longitudinal research is important for understanding the onset, development, and maintenance of both normal and pathological gambling behavior because it allows researchers to identify the factors that moderate or exacerbate participation in the activity over time. This type of research can also provide the evidence needed to develop effective treatments for those with pathological gambling.