What is Gambling Addiction?


Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value (as money, property, or other assets) on an uncertain event whose outcome may be determined by chance or accident, as well as by skill. People often gamble as a way to relax and have fun, but some people develop a gambling problem that causes them serious harm. In addition to the emotional and financial costs, a gambling disorder can cause social and family problems. It can also be a risk factor for other mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

There are a number of different strategies that can be used to help someone with a gambling addiction, and many organizations offer support, assistance, and counselling for those affected by gambling. Depending on the organisation, these services can help people control their gambling behaviour, avoid it altogether, and provide support for those close to them who are being affected.

Some people find that gambling is a useful coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, but it can actually lead to more stress, particularly when the individual ends up spending more than they intended or racking up debts. It can also strain relationships and lead to feelings of shame or guilt, and individuals who have a gambling problem are often reluctant to admit their addiction to others, leading them to hide their behaviour and even lie about it.

Research has shown that some people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviour and impulsivity, which can make it easier for them to become addicted to gambling. The research has also shown that some individuals have an underactive reward system in the brain, which makes it harder for them to process rewards and control their impulses.

Although most adults and adolescents have placed some form of bet, a significant subset go on to develop gambling disorder, defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) as a persistent recurrent pattern of gambling behavior that is associated with distress or impairment. In addition, some individuals have a family history of gambling disorder, which makes them more likely to develop the condition.

In the past, the psychiatric community generally regarded pathological gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction. However, in the 1980s, as part of an update to its manual, the APA moved pathological gambling to the addictions chapter, placing it alongside other impulse-control disorders such as kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania (hair pulling).

While there are many benefits to gambling, there are also negative impacts on personal, interpersonal and community/societal levels. Personal impacts refer to effects that affect the gamblers themselves, while interpersonal and societal/community level impacts pertain to those who are not gamblers, such as friends and family members, and can range from the strain of accumulating debt to the impact on employment. A variety of psychological therapies can help people overcome their gambling addiction, including cognitive behavioural therapy, which involves looking at the logic behind gambling, such as odds and beliefs about luck and skill in nonskills-based games. Another common approach is motivational interviewing, in which people work with a counselor to explore their ambivalence about changing their gambling habits.