Gambling Disorders

Gambling is betting something of value (often money) on a chance event where the outcome is not known. The game of gambling can take many forms; for example, people may place bets on sports events, games of skill such as poker, or even card or board games like backgammon and mahjong. It has been an activity in many cultures for thousands of years. It has also been a source of controversy, especially since it is often illegal and has led to organized crime.

A psychiatric disorder called pathological gambling is an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite negative consequences for one’s physical and psychological health, work, family or social life. A comorbid condition, it is associated with depression and anxiety disorders. In the past, the psychiatric community has viewed this behavior as more of a compulsion than an addiction and as part of a category of impulse-control disorders that included such conditions as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). In what is regarded as a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association changed its classification of this disorder in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to include it in the section on addictions.

Several treatments are available for people with gambling disorders, including psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy teaches people to change their thinking and behaviors that contribute to gambling problems. This can involve learning to recognize and avoid triggers of the urge to gamble, as well as developing coping skills for dealing with them. Medication can help treat co-occurring mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which frequently occur along with gambling disorders.

Longitudinal studies are the best way to study the relationship between gambling and a person’s behavior, but this type of research is rarely done for several reasons. It can be difficult to maintain a research team over a long time period; it is impossible to guarantee the integrity of the participants and their responses; there are risks that a person’s behavior will change during the study (e.g., they will begin to gamble more heavily if they are exposed to new gambling opportunities); and it is important to control for aging and period effects when trying to infer causality.

Gambling can be a fun and harmless pastime, but it is important to recognize when it becomes a problem. If you think you or a loved one has a gambling problem, seek help. If you are unable to stop gambling, try to strengthen your support network, enroll in a class or book club, or find other activities that will occupy your mind and body. You can also join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. Counseling can also help, especially if you are struggling with relationships and finances as a result of your gambling.