Gambling and Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves betting something of value on the outcome of a game, contest or uncertain event with awareness of risk and in the hope of gain. It varies from lottery tickets and the betting of small sums by people with little money, to the sophisticated casino gambling of the wealthy, either for profit or as a pastime. It can be legal or illegal, and may involve large amounts of money or social status. It can also be addictive and lead to criminal activity, family abuse, bankruptcy and a variety of health problems.

Individuals who develop a problem with gambling come from all walks of life. They can be rich or poor, young or old, male or female. They can live in small towns or big cities. Some individuals gamble for the thrill of winning, while others seek to relieve boredom or self-soothe unpleasant emotions by gambling. For some, gambling can even become a substitute for work or other healthy activities.

While most people who gamble do not have a serious problem, some people can become addicted to the activity. This is considered pathological gambling and has been compared to substance addiction. In fact, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, moved pathological gambling to the same category as substance use disorders, based on research findings that showed similar clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and physiology.

The DSM-5 also includes specific criteria for a disorder called compulsive gambling, which is defined by an inability to control the urge to gamble and persistent losses. This is a severe form of the condition, and requires inpatient treatment or rehabilitation. In addition to treatment, individuals with a compulsive gambling disorder should seek other forms of support. This can include finding new ways to self-soothe, such as exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble or practicing relaxation techniques. In addition, it is important to get marriage, career and credit counseling if needed to address the issues that have contributed to the gambling problem.

Those struggling with problem gambling often have difficulty breaking free of the habit, and they may hide their gambling activities from family and co-workers. They may lie to them about how much they are spending and continue gambling in secret, hoping they will win enough to cover their debts or recoup lost funds. They also may attempt to cover their tracks by hiding computer files or lying about where they have been. Others may try to recover by seeking out a peer-support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step model used in Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition to support groups, there are many other resources available for those with a gambling problem, including inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs, family therapy and marriage and credit counselling. Many of these services are covered by health insurance. However, some may require a referral from a doctor or counselor.