Gambling Disorders


Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. It may be done through gambling establishments, such as casinos and racetracks, or online. The prize can be anything from a small amount of money to a life-changing jackpot. Although the activity is socially accepted, it can be addictive and lead to problems for some people. Several types of therapy can help people with gambling disorders.

One type of therapy involves cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches people to resist their impulses and behaviors. In particular, it helps them confront their irrational beliefs, such as the gambler’s fallacy that a string of losses or near misses signals an imminent win. Other therapies involve family and marriage counseling, as well as credit and financial management. They can help people work through specific issues that have arisen because of their gambling and lay the groundwork for repairing relationships and finances.

Some people develop a gambling disorder in response to stress, trauma, or other negative life events. Others may be born with a predisposition, such as genetics or temperament, to become addicted to gambling. A person’s family history of gambling addiction can also be a risk factor. Psychiatric illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can also trigger problem gambling.

Longitudinal research is needed to better understand the underlying causes of pathological gambling, and to develop more effective treatments. However, such studies are challenging to conduct. They require massive funding, long-term commitments, and multiyear follow-up; they can also be susceptible to a variety of confounding factors, such as sample attrition, aging effects, and period effects (e.g., did a person start gambling more because they were 18 and at the age of majority or because a casino opened nearby?).

In addition, the use of self-reports to identify problem gambling can be subject to bias and misinterpretation. Further, many people do not seek treatment for their gambling disorders. This is partially due to the lack of publicly available treatment options and a perception that gambling is not an important problem in society. Nevertheless, some treatment programs have shown promising results.

People with gambling disorders can reduce their chances of a relapse by seeking help when they feel the urge to gamble. They can talk about their gambling problems with a trusted friend or family member, or with a professional counselor. In addition, they can learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, or taking up a new hobby. They can also join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. They can also postpone gambling until they can find a safe environment to do so. In some cases, medication may be helpful in treating co-occurring conditions, such as depression or anxiety. However, only about one in ten people with gambling disorders seek help.