Gambling As an Addiction


Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, including money or property, on an uncertain event whose result depends on chance or skill. It can take place in a variety of settings, from organized lotteries to horse races and casino games. In more recent times, the popularity of poker has spawned many Internet gambling sites where players make wagers against one another. The total amount of money legally wagered worldwide each year is estimated to be over $10 trillion.

Most people who gamble do so for entertainment purposes and enjoy thinking about what they might do with a large sum of money. However, some people find gambling addictive and struggle to control their impulses to gamble. These individuals may feel compelled to gamble even when their financial situation is dire. They may also experience mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which can trigger or make worse gambling problems.

Some forms of gambling involve a high degree of risk, such as placing a bet on a sports team to mitigate the consequences of losing a season. However, other forms of gambling are not so risky, such as purchasing lottery tickets or making a wager with friends on the outcome of a game of cards. A person can also engage in a form of gambling called “insurance,” which involves shifting the risk of an event to someone else for a fee, similar to placing a bet.

People often begin gambling for social reasons, such as participating in a group activity or going to the movies with friends. Others gamble to relieve unpleasant emotions, such as boredom, loneliness, or frustration. Ultimately, gambling can become an addiction when it becomes a compulsive behavior that interferes with daily functioning and causes significant distress.

Behavioral therapy can help people who struggle with gambling addiction break free from their dependence on the activity. In addition, family therapy and marriage counseling can help address the effects of gambling on a person’s relationships and finances.

Some people have predispositions to gambling, such as an underactive brain reward system, impulsivity, and an inability to weigh risks and rewards. Genetic predispositions may also play a role in a person’s susceptibility to gambling, as can environmental factors such as a high risk-taking culture.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behaviors. PG tends to develop in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common among men than women. It is more likely to occur in strategic, face-to-face forms of gambling, such as casino table games and card games, than in nonstrategic forms such as slot machines or bingo. PG is most prevalent in wealthy countries and is a leading cause of incarceration and substance use disorders. The treatment for PG is based on cognitive-behavioral principles and includes education about the risks of gambling and self-monitoring of behavior. Several integrated approaches have been developed, but they have varying levels of effectiveness.