Gambling Addiction


Gambling is the wagering of something of value upon an event of chance or a future contingent event that is not under the person’s control or influence. It includes activities such as betting on sports, horse races and games of chance like lotteries and bingo. It does not include bona fide business transactions valid under law, such as acquiring and selling securities, commodities, or other property for profit, contracts of insurance and guaranty, or life, health, or accident insurance (DSM-5, 2013).

While many people may gamble for social, financial, or entertainment reasons, gambling can become problematic when it becomes a way to escape unpleasant emotions or stress, or a means of gaining wealth. Problematic gambling can cause long-lasting changes in the brain, making it hard for a person to control their behavior.

As with all addictive behaviors, gambling begins when a person is exposed to stimuli that trigger the brain’s reward system. The reward system is a series of neurological circuits that produce dopamine when a person encounters positive experiences, such as scoring a goal in a game or hitting a target with a gun. When a person becomes addicted to gambling, they experience a similar positive experience every time they place a bet or win a game, even when the outcome is negative.

The psychiatric community has historically viewed pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction, and it was not until the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the book that outlines psychiatry’s classifications, was released in 2013 that the association moved pathological gambling into the section on substance-related and addictive disorders. The decision was widely hailed as a landmark moment and brought the condition in line with other addictions such as drug abuse, kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania (hair-pulling).

In addition to the biological factors that lead to gambling addiction, there are also behavioral and environmental factors that can contribute to a person’s risk. These include:

If you have a loved one who has a problem with gambling, there are steps that can be taken to help them overcome their addictive behavior. For example, a person who is addicted to gambling should make sure that they don’t have access to money by cutting up credit cards, putting someone else in charge of their finances, or closing online gambling accounts. They should also learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant emotions, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques. Finally, they should consider joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and can provide valuable guidance and accountability in recovery.