Gambling is the risking of something of value (money, property, or other valuables) on an event involving chance in hopes of winning something else of value. It may be done face-to-face with others or in a virtual environment such as online casinos and video games. It is often compared to betting, but gambling involves skill and knowledge on the part of the gambler rather than simply luck. The term “gambling” also includes lotteries, sports betting, and games of chance like lottery tickets or bingo. Insurance policies and retirement plans are also forms of gambling, though the wagers in these cases are generally based on actuarial data.
Some people who gamble are able to stop after playing a few rounds of poker or dropping a few coins into a slot machine, having had fun while they did so. But for others, the urge to continue is overwhelming. Psychiatrists are increasingly concerned that as the availability and accessibility of gambling increases, more and more people will be susceptible to becoming addicted to this activity.
A number of different psychological and medical issues can lead to gambling addiction, including personality traits and coexisting mental health disorders. In addition, certain populations are at greater risk for developing a gambling disorder, such as those with low incomes who may have more to gain from a big win, and young people, especially boys and men. In a recent decision, the Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling from its previous classification as an impulse control disorder to the Addictions chapter of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. This shift reflects a new understanding of the biology underlying gambling addiction.
While some experts believe that the compulsion to gamble can be treated in the same way as other addictions, more research is needed. For example, longitudinal studies that follow individuals over a long period of time are crucial in order to understand what causes a person to develop a gambling problem and what helps them recover from it. However, such studies are challenging to mount because of the massive financial commitment required; the difficulty of maintaining a research team over a long time period; and the known problems with sample attrition and age effects.
There are several ways to help someone with a gambling disorder, from individual and group therapy to family therapy and marital, career, and credit counseling. Regardless of the approach, it’s important to be patient and not rush to judgment. Remember that the person with a gambling problem didn’t choose to become addicted and was likely acting out of desperation.
Those with an addictive gambling habit are often ashamed of their behavior, and may lie to friends and family about their activity or hide evidence of their behavior. This can cause significant harm to relationships and can be particularly dangerous for children, as it can lead to isolation and depression. For this reason, it’s important to seek help for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with a gambling addiction.