The Nature of Gambling Disorder


Gambling is any game of chance in which you put something of value at risk with the hope of winning a prize. It can include the purchase of lottery tickets, cards, bingo, dice, slots, horse races, animal tracks, sporting events and more. It also includes games of skill such as poker, blackjack and roulette. While gambling is often associated with casinos and racetracks, it can also happen at gas stations, church halls and even online.

Whether you play for fun or for money, gambling is a risky activity that can lead to addiction. It can also lead to a loss of control and even criminal activity. When someone is addicted to gambling, they are likely to spend more money than they can afford and may lie about their spending or rely on others to cover their losses. In addition, they may have other psychological or medical problems such as depression or bipolar disorder.

In order to understand the nature of gambling disorder, it’s important to understand how the brain works. Humans are biologically wired to seek rewards. When we interact with loved ones, eat a delicious meal or win at a game of skill, our bodies release a chemical called dopamine that makes us feel good. But when we gamble, our brains are flooded with dopamine, making it difficult to stop.

Problematic gambling affects the reward center of the brain, leading to cravings and impulsivity. It can cause serious financial and personal problems, including family discord, divorce and bankruptcy. It is a significant risk factor for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and research suggests that mood symptoms often precede pathological gambling.

Gambling can take many forms, from playing cards and board games with friends for small amounts to betting on a horse race or the Super Bowl. It can also be more extreme, such as a person who lies to their employer or school about why they’re missing work in order to gamble or a person who has committed an illegal act like forgery, theft or embezzlement to fund gambling habits.

Symptoms of gambling disorder include: a) putting something of value at risk in the hope of winning a prize; b) a significant increase in gambling-related behavior, despite efforts to reduce it; c) lying to family members or a therapist about how much one is involved with gambling; d) hiding or downplaying losses and chasing losses; and e) using an illegal activity (like forgery, fraud or theft) to finance gambling or to cover up a desperate financial situation created by gambling (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not currently approve any medications to treat gambling disorder, but several types of psychotherapy can help. These treatments can involve individual, group or family therapy and focus on helping the person to recognize unhealthy patterns and change them. They can also address any coexisting mental health issues. Some of the most effective treatments for gambling disorder include psychodynamic therapy, which focuses on unconscious processes; family therapy, which helps family members understand and support the person’s treatment efforts; and cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches skills to manage negative thoughts and behaviors.