Problem Gambling

Gambling involves risking something of value on an activity that is primarily a matter of chance in the hopes of winning a profit. It has existed in virtually all societies since prerecorded history, and it is an integral part of many local customs and rites of passage. It has been associated with crime, corruption, and positive and negative economic and social impacts. Gambling is also a significant international commercial activity; the total amount of money legally wagered each year worldwide is estimated to be $10 trillion (illegal gambling may exceed even this figure). In addition, people wager with things that are not currency, such as marbles or collectible game pieces like Pogs and Magic: The Gathering cards.

The psychological literature on gambling has focused largely on pathological gamblers, whose behaviors and motivations are quite different from those of other gamblers. For example, while most gamblers are motivated by the prospect of a potential win, pathological gamblers often experience severe anxiety in anticipation of losing. Moreover, pathological gamblers tend to place greater emphasis on the size of possible losses than on the likelihood of winning, and they are more likely to seek a rush of excitement from gambling than other gamblers.

In recent years, understanding of the nature of problem gambling has undergone a fundamental change. Individuals who experience adverse consequences of excessive gambling are no longer considered to be gambling addicts, but rather to have serious psychological problems. This shift in the way that psychologists describe pathological gambling parallels the change in the perception of alcoholics during the same period.

Historically, individuals who experienced problematic gambling behavior were viewed as having a medical problem that could be treated with medication or psychotherapy. This understanding of problem gambling has been supported by the fact that pathological gamblers often experience comorbid disorders, such as substance abuse and depression. Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence that gambling behavior can be modified through the use of behavioral therapy.

In the United States, approximately 2.5 million adults (1%) meet the criteria for a gambling disorder. It is estimated that 5-8 million additional Americans have mild or moderate gambling problems. Many of these individuals are in recovery from pathological gambling or are former pathological gamblers who have regained control over their gambling behavior. Nevertheless, the prevalence of gambling disorder is far higher in other countries. In addition, the prevalence of problem gambling in children is increasing rapidly. This is due to technological advances and a general increase in the availability of gambling opportunities. This has led to an explosion of online casinos, lottery games, and video games with gambling elements. Many of these online casinos and video games are available to children who are well below the legal age for gambling. As a result, children are increasingly exposed to gambling advertisements and promotions. This has fueled the development of a new generation of gambling-related problems in the United States.

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