Pathological Gambling


Gambling is the risking of something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance, with the hope of winning something else of value. A gambler makes a bet with a monetary amount (such as money, items, or services) in which they believe there is a chance of winning based on the ‘odds’ that are set by the gambling company.

While most people who engage in gambling do so for enjoyment, there are those whose behavior is compulsive and a significant cause of distress and problems. It is not uncommon for someone with a gambling problem to try and hide their habit or lie about it to family members, friends, and coworkers. If left unchecked, a gambling problem can affect every area of the person’s life, including work, family, and relationships.

Problem gambling is often a result of underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. It can also be a way for someone to cope with stress, boredom, or loneliness. If a loved one is struggling with a gambling addiction, counseling can help. A therapist can teach the individual healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends, or taking up new hobbies.

Pathological gambling is a disorder characterized by recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors. It can begin in adolescence or young adulthood and is more common among men than women. It is estimated that 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet criteria for pathological gambling.

The psychiatric community used to think of pathological gambling as a compulsion, but in an effort to better understand the biology of addiction, the American Psychiatric Association has moved the condition into the ‘impulse control disorders’ category in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This change mirrors similar shifts in understanding of other impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania (hair-pulling).

The biggest challenge for someone with a gambling problem is accepting that they have a problem and committing to get help. It can be difficult to admit you have a problem when it has cost you money or strained your relationship with others, but it is important to remember that many other people have overcome their gambling issues and rebuilt their lives. To help you on your journey, consider joining a support group and finding a therapist who specializes in addiction. Having a supportive network of family and friends can be helpful, too. If you are concerned about a friend or loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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