Gambling Disorders


Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest or an uncertain event. It is often distinguished from insurance, a method of shifting risk from one party to another through payments or premiums based on actuarial calculations. Despite this distinction, many of the same principles apply to both. Some people develop gambling disorders and may need treatment.

While some forms of gambling are social activities that involve sharing risk and taking turns, the majority of gambles are individual wagers on specific events with fixed odds of winning or losing. In order to make a profit, the player must bet more than they can afford to lose. In some cases, this leads to a debt that can be difficult or impossible to pay. In other cases, the person can become so engrossed in gambling that they neglect to perform everyday tasks or take on new commitments. This is called compulsive gambling.

Some of the factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to gambling problems include low income, age and gender. According to the Behavioral Addictions Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, around 5% of people who gamble develop a gambling disorder. Young people, particularly boys and men, are most susceptible to this problem, with up to twice as many men as women suffering from gambling addictions. Having a close relative with an addiction is also associated with increased vulnerability.

The risk of gambling addiction can be mitigated by self-reflection and the use of a budget that limits money spent on gambling. In addition, some people benefit from psychotherapy or support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, which adheres to abstinence principles similar to those of drug and alcohol abstinence programs. Medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and opioid antagonists can help control symptoms of gambling addiction.

In a recent article in the Society for Neuroscience minisymposium on gambling, a team of researchers presented results showing that a brain circuit involved in risky decisions is activated during games of chance. The team hopes that further research will help to explain why people can experience addictive behavior in the context of these games. They have also found that some people are genetically predisposed to gambling addiction, but this finding is not yet clear enough for clinical diagnosis.

As more and more people gain access to online casinos, lotteries and other forms of gambling, the psychiatric community has been concerned about the potential for compulsion. For a long time, the APA has classified pathological gambling as a symptom of impulse control disorders, along with kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (firesetting) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). In the latest edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the APA moved the condition to the category of addictions. More recent research in rodents and nonhuman primates has begun to define the neural circuitry and chemistry involved in gambling addiction.