Gambling involves placing a bet on something with an uncertain outcome, such as the result of a game of chance, a lottery, or a sports event. If the gambler predicts the outcome correctly, they win money. If they don’t, they lose the money they placed on the bet. The act of gambling can also involve taking risks in other ways, such as by investing in stocks or speculating on the future price of goods. In addition, gambling can have negative psychological effects on the gambler and their family, including feelings of anxiety and depression.
In the past, people who experienced adverse consequences of gambling were viewed as having gambling problems, but this understanding has changed. The psychiatric community now recognizes pathological gambling as a disorder, similar to alcoholism and other impulse-control disorders. This change has been reflected or stimulated by the changes to the diagnostic descriptions and classifications of these disorders in the various editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (called DSM).
While there are many reasons why people gamble, a few common factors make it more likely for someone to develop a gambling problem. For example, some people have an underactive brain reward system, which can lead to impulsivity and thrill-seeking behaviours. Studies of the brain have found that some people may also be genetically predisposed to risk-taking and impulsivity.
Another reason why gambling can become addictive is that it makes people feel good. When a person wins, their brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives them a sense of pleasure and well-being. This is why people keep betting, even when they know that their chances of winning are slim. Some people also gamble for coping reasons, such as to forget their worries or to help them feel more confident.
Although it is often difficult to tell when a person’s gambling has become problematic, the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction include:
Those who have a gambling problem are sometimes reluctant to seek help, because they may feel that they are not to blame for their behavior. They may also be afraid that their loved ones will not accept them if they seek treatment. It is important for those who think that they are at risk of developing a gambling addiction to get help as soon as possible, because the longer a person continues to gamble, the more they will lose. There are several treatments for problem gambling, including group or individual therapy, and inpatient or residential treatment programs. There are also other specialised therapies, such as family therapy, marriage counselling, career or credit counseling, which can help individuals and families deal with the specific issues that have caused them to turn to gambling. These therapies can also help people to learn healthier coping strategies.