Pathological Gambling

Gambling involves risking something of value on an activity that is primarily a matter of chance in the hope of realizing a gain. It has been a part of virtually every society since prerecorded history and is an integral component of many local customs and rites of passage. Although most individuals gamble for social or recreational purposes and experience no negative consequences, a small percentage become seriously involved in gambling to the point of impaired functioning and significant negative personal, family, social, and financial effects. These individuals are diagnosed with pathological gambling, which is now included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Gamblers place bets in hopes of winning money or other prizes. They may do this by playing a game of chance such as roulette or poker, or by placing bets with friends. Some people may even place bets on sporting events or on the outcome of a political election. Gambling takes place in casinos, racetracks, and other places where games of chance are offered. It also occurs in more informal settings such as gas stations, church halls, and the Internet.

People who gamble may feel a rush of excitement and euphoria when they win, but it is important to remember that gambling is always risky. The risk of losing is greater than the potential for a prize or jackpot. Gambling can also trigger mood disorders such as depression or anxiety, which can make it harder to resist temptation or to stop gambling.

The psychology of gambling has undergone a great deal of change in the past several decades. Understanding of the adverse consequences of excessive gambling has improved, and this understanding has helped reduce its prevalence. While there is still a strong pro-gambling movement, the peak of this movement seems to have been reached, and anti-gambling forces are gaining strength.

In the past, gamblers were commonly seen as deviants who did not belong in society, but the view of problem gambling has changed significantly. Today, the view of problem gambling is much more like that of other psychiatric disorders. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that problems with gambling are related to an individual’s general personality and life style rather than to specific biological or environmental factors.

Gambling is a powerful and alluring activity that appeals to fantasies of wealth, glory, and moments of grandeur. It can make millionaires of some and result in the ruin of families, businesses, and whole communities. The ability to control the urge to gamble depends on a person’s temperament, lifestyle, and support system. It is also influenced by cultural and economic factors. For example, the Depression of the 1930s created an inordinate emphasis on money and increased the popularity of gambling. This was compounded by the development of corporate America, which put its focus on profit and expansion. It is also influenced by cognitive and motivational factors that distort the perception of odds and influence a person’s preference for certain types of bets.