Gambling Disorders


Gambling involves placing a bet or stake on an event or game with the hope of winning money or other valuable prizes. It is considered a type of entertainment, but for some people it can become an addiction that leads to financial and personal problems. Several factors contribute to gambling disorders, including genetics, environment and coexisting mental health conditions. Fortunately, counseling and other treatment options can help people with gambling problems regain control of their lives.

Some people have a hard time recognizing when their gambling has crossed the line from fun to problem behavior. Others find it difficult to ask for help because they feel shame or guilt about their gambling behavior. Cultural beliefs about gambling can also influence a person’s views of the activity and what constitutes a problem.

Research has shown that certain individuals are more likely to develop gambling disorders. These individuals may have an underactive brain reward system that affects their ability to control impulses and weigh risk. They are also more likely to be predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors. Similarly, there are certain medications that can make it more difficult to control gambling behavior.

The American Psychiatric Association has officially classified pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder since the 1980s. This was a departure from the prevailing view of pathological gambling as a compulsion, which emphasized the behavioral symptoms of compulsive behaviors like kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania. It is thought that this change was a result of advances in understanding the brain and how it functions, as well as the growing recognition that gambling behavior can be similar to other impulse-control disorders.

Despite the fact that some of the criteria used in defining gambling disorder are not as clearly defined as those for other psychiatric disorders, the DSM-5 has established 10 diagnostic items for this disorder. These include: damage or disruption to one’s life, loss of control, and dependence. Damage or disruption includes losing money, lying to loved ones and borrowing to finance the gambling habit. Loss of control includes being unable to stop gambling or to gamble at the level desired, and dependence includes the need for larger and larger bets in order to experience the same levels of excitement.

In addition to seeking professional help, people with gambling disorders can benefit from support groups and self-help tips. They can also consider therapy techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which examines the thoughts, feelings and beliefs about gambling that can trigger problems. CBT can help people identify and challenge beliefs that fuel their gambling habits, such as believing that certain rituals will bring them luck or that they can win back their losses by gambling more. Additionally, CBT can help people identify and cope with stressors that may be contributing to their gambling behavior. CBT is an evidence-based treatment that can improve the quality of a person’s life by decreasing their harmful gambling behaviors. However, it is important to remember that only a person with a gambling disorder can decide whether or not they want to seek help.