Pathological Gambling

Gambling is putting something of value on an event or outcome that is based on chance. It can include games of chance like roulette, blackjack, and craps played in brick-and-mortar or online casinos. It also includes sports betting and lotteries. It does not include bona fide business transactions, such as purchasing or selling securities and commodities, or contracts of insurance or guaranty (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

A person who engages in gambling does so for the thrill of winning and the potential for loss. They might gamble to win money or other prizes, such as vacations and travel, or they might try to overcome a financial crisis by gambling. Problem gambling can cause many negative consequences, including family and work problems, debt, and depression. It can also interfere with an individual’s ability to function at home and in the workplace, and may lead to criminal activity such as forgery, embezzlement, and fraud.

Pathological gambling (PG) is a mental health disorder that affects about 0.4-1.6% of Americans. It is characterized by a pattern of maladaptive behaviors, including compulsive gambling and other risk-taking activities such as video gaming and online gambling. It can begin in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in men than in women.

Research on PG is challenging because of the difficulty in diagnosing the disorder and the lack of data on its prevalence. Longitudinal studies that track a group of people over time are needed to better understand the factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of the disorder.

There are a number of risk factors for PG, including family history and genetics, trauma, and social inequality. Those with PG often experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. They also tend to lie to friends and family members about their gambling activities, and may even conceal evidence of their behavior. Some individuals with PG use their gambling as a way to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as boredom, loneliness, or stress.

It is important to recognize the signs of a problem and seek help. A doctor or therapist can diagnose PG and recommend treatment. Treatment options may include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or interpersonal therapy. Individuals with a severe problem may benefit from inpatient or residential programs, which provide round-the-clock support.

Some people with a gambling problem find that they are able to control their gambling, while others do not. It is important to find healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, taking a hot bath, or spending time with friends. In addition, it is helpful to seek treatment for any underlying mood disorders that might be contributing to the gambling disorder, such as depression or anxiety. This can help improve a person’s self-esteem and increase their ability to manage their gambling problems. Medications may also be prescribed to reduce cravings for gambling and to improve sleep.