Gambling is the activity of betting on the outcome of a game or event. Some forms of gambling involve an exchange of real money for valuable goods, such as sports teams or cars, while others may use materials with a value but not attached to cash (such as marbles or collectible games like Magic: The Gathering). Regardless of the form of the wager, some individuals who engage in gambling experience adverse consequences. Such consequences can include the loss of money, family and friends, employment, or personal and professional relationships. Understanding the nature of such effects, and the relative vulnerability of some groups to developing problems, may contribute to improved prevention, intervention and treatment.
It is estimated that up to 20% of people who engage in gambling do so without any negative consequences, and that most gamblers can control their behavior. In contrast, for a small percentage of the population, a problem with gambling can cause significant distress and impairment in their lives. The term used to describe these cases is pathological gambling. The criteria for pathological gambling are based on the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. This classification system is important to researchers, psychiatrists, and other clinicians who study the behavior and treat those who develop gambling problems.
The DSM criteria for pathological gambling are based on several factors, including:
Several factors make a person more susceptible to develop a gambling problem. For example, research shows that those who experience large wins early on in their gambling career are more likely to become addicted than those who never win at all. Also, young people, especially males, are more likely to become addicted to gambling than adults.
In addition, some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity, and this can contribute to the development of gambling problems. Other factors include cultural values, which can influence the way in which individuals interpret and understand their own gambling activities.
Individuals who suffer from underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are more likely to develop gambling problems. The comorbidity of these disorders can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. This can further exacerbate gambling problems and negatively impact other aspects of one’s life.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a gambling addiction, help is available. Seek therapy to learn how to set healthy boundaries and manage finances, and consider marital, career, and credit counseling as well. The biggest step is admitting that you have a problem, and this can take tremendous strength and courage, especially when it has cost you your financial security and strained or damaged relationships. Getting the right kind of help can help you move forward and rebuild your life.