Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that is determined at least in part by chance. This may include putting money on the outcome of a sporting event, buying a lottery ticket, playing bingo, betting in office pools, or even a bet with friends. Gambling is often considered a form of entertainment or fun, but it can also be dangerous and lead to gambling addiction if it becomes a serious problem.
Compulsive gambling is a mental illness that affects an individual’s ability to control his or her behavior. It can cause problems in all areas of a person’s life, including physical health, family relationships, work or school performance, and financial stability. The condition can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and it can cause significant social and economic harm for individuals and families. People with gambling disorders often have underlying mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. These conditions can trigger and make worse gambling problems, and they can have the same negative effects on the gambler’s family as compulsive gambling.
Many different factors can contribute to a person’s vulnerability to develop gambling problems, including genetic traits, family history, age, and sex. Younger adults and males are more likely to develop gambling problems than older adults or females. Those with a history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder are at higher risk of developing gambling disorders as well. Gambling habits can also be influenced by a person’s environment and the people around him or her.
The symptoms of gambling disorder are similar to those of other addictive behaviors, and mental health professionals have developed criteria that help to diagnose the condition. These are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the book that mental health professionals use to guide their diagnoses. These criteria include:
A person who has a gambling disorder is preoccupied with gambling (i.e., has persistent thoughts about gambling, reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, or thinking of ways to get more money with which to gamble). He or she has unsuccessful efforts to control, cut down, or stop gambling. He or she lies to family members, therapists, or others in order to conceal the extent of his or her involvement with gambling. He or she jeopardizes a relationship, job, educational or career opportunity, or financial security in order to gamble. He or she tries to cover up gambling activities by forging checks, stealing money, or engaging in other illegal activities to finance gambling.
The first step in overcoming a gambling addiction is admitting that there is a problem. This can be difficult, especially if the person has lost a lot of money or has strained or broken ties with family and friends as a result of gambling. For those who continue to struggle, counseling can be helpful in learning coping skills and rethinking the meaning of gambling in their lives. In addition, research shows that physical activity can relieve stress and improve gambling symptoms.