Gambling involves placing something of value (typically money) on an event with a random element that has the potential to produce a larger prize. People gamble by playing games of chance such as lotteries, cards, dice, sports betting, and video or slot machines. People with gambling disorders lose control of their gambling behavior and experience severe problems that affect their personal, professional, and family lives. These problems may be a result of gambling alone or in combination with substance use and depression.
Pathological gambling (PG) is a serious psychological disorder that affects approximately 0.1-4.6% of the population. Typically, PG develops in adolescence or young adulthood and is more prevalent among males than females. It is more likely to develop in a person who has been exposed to gambling and other forms of recreational and leisure activities early in life, as well as those who have an immediate family member with a history of PG. People with PG tend to prefer strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as poker or blackjack, and report greater difficulties in controlling their behavior with nonstrategic or less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as video poker or bingo.
Psychiatrists treat PG with medications, psychotherapy, and support groups. Psychotherapy can help individuals understand their gambling behavior and explore underlying causes. It can also help them identify and work through relationships that are strained or damaged by the gambling addiction. Medications can be used to treat co-occurring conditions, such as depression or anxiety.
Research has found that many of the same factors that cause a person to gamble compulsively also influence whether he or she will recover from the problem. Some of these factors include the person’s genetic predisposition, the presence of a family history of gambling disorder, past experiences with loss, and financial or emotional stress. Other factors include the person’s motivation to gamble and his or her ability to control their urges.
Despite the high stakes, recovery from gambling disorder is possible. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and seek treatment. Then, a person can focus on changing his or her gambling behaviors. It is important to surround yourself with supportive friends and family members and join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition, a person can take up new hobbies, exercise, or find other ways to relieve boredom and frustration. Lastly, the person can try to reduce his or her reliance on gambling by setting limits for money and time spent on it. Attempts to break the habit should be gradual and include both self-management strategies and professional help. These approaches may be combined with family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling to address the broader issues that caused the gambling problem. Longitudinal studies are needed to identify factors that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation, as well as to determine causality. These types of studies are difficult to conduct because they require large funding and multiyear commitments; there are concerns about maintaining research team continuity over a lengthy period and about sample attrition.