Gambling involves placing something of value, usually money, on an event with a uncertain outcome, determined at least partly by chance. It can be done at physical locations such as casinos and racetracks or online via video games, sports betting websites and lotteries. Gambling has a significant impact on society and individuals, and is linked to several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
While most people who gamble do so without problems, some develop gambling disorders, which are characterized by a persistent and recurrent pattern of problem-gambling behavior that causes substantial distress or impairment in one or more areas of life (Psychiatry, Vol. 59, 2021). It’s estimated that up to 4% of the population can be diagnosed with pathological gambling. The DSM-5 describes pathological gambling as an addictive disorder. It is also referred to as compulsive gambling or disordered gambling.
People with lower incomes may be particularly susceptible to developing gambling disorders. In addition, many young people — particularly boys and men — start gambling at a much earlier age than previous generations, leading to increased risk of problem behaviors.
The brain’s reward center is triggered by the anticipation of winning and the excitement of losing. When we gamble, we often place a bet on an event that could change our lives for the better or worse. In addition to our financial status, we consider other factors such as the probability of winning or losing, the size of the potential prize, and the time investment required to win. Ultimately, we place our bets because we hope to make more money or gain an advantage in the future.
Gambling is a social activity and can be found in most communities. It is common at public events such as sporting events, in bars and restaurants, at charity fundraisers and even at church halls. However, the vast majority of gambling is done at private establishments such as casinos and racetracks. It can also be accessed online through video games, lotteries and other online platforms that allow people to wager on events with the potential to bring in millions of dollars.
There are no FDA-approved medications to treat gambling disorders, but psychotherapy can help. This is a combination of talk therapy and behavioral modification that takes place with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. It can help individuals identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors that contribute to problematic gambling. It can also help address coexisting mental health conditions that may be contributing to the disorder. A stepped-care model of treatment is generally recommended, and it may include self-report and clinician assessments and interventions. Medications can also be used in conjunction with psychotherapy. This can improve the effectiveness of treatment. For instance, some antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can reduce impulsivity and decrease the urge to gamble. However, the final decision to stop gambling is up to the individual. People who choose to quit should seek support from family and friends, and find other ways to relieve stress.