Gambling and Mental Illness


Gambling is a risky activity in which you stake something of value, such as money or property, for the chance to win a prize. It can include games of chance, in which the outcome is purely random, and activities that involve skill such as sports betting or card games. The act of gambling usually involves some degree of risk, but the amount of money at stake can vary from none to a great deal.

Many people gamble without experiencing any negative effects, while others have serious issues that can have a major impact on their health and family life. Some people who have problems with gambling seek help by visiting a therapist or support group. It is also important for family members and friends to reach out for support when dealing with a loved one who has a problem with gambling.

Historically, the psychiatric community has not regarded gambling as an addiction in the same way that they have regarded drugs or alcohol. Instead, pathological gambling was generally classified as an impulse control disorder, a vague category that also included other disorders such as kleptomania (stealing) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). However, in the 1980s, while updating their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the APA officially moved pathological gambling into the section on addictive and compulsive behaviors.

Although there is some evidence of a direct relationship between gambling and mental illness, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from existing research. Most studies have been cross-sectional and involve self-reports by the participants, which can introduce biases and limit their validity. Longitudinal studies are much more reliable, but they are more expensive and require a large investment of time and resources.

In general, researchers have found that the risk for gambling problems increases with age and sex. It is also more common in men than in women, and in people who are depressed or have other psychiatric disorders. It is also more common for people who have a family history of gambling problems to develop a problem themselves.

If you think you might have a gambling problem, you can get help from a therapist who specialises in gambling. A therapist can teach you how to change your thoughts and behaviours to prevent problem gambling, and will recommend techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that looks at how you think about betting and your beliefs about luck and winning. It can also address issues such as believing you are more likely to win than you really are, thinking that certain rituals will bring you luck, and chasing your losses (trying to make up for previous losing bets). It is also important to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose, and to stop when you reach your money limits. Also, never try to recover your losses by gambling more, as this will only increase your chances of losing even more. In fact, chasing your losses is the most common cause of gambling-related financial problems.