Gambling and Problem Gambling


Gambling is risking something of value on an event determined at least in part by chance with the hope of winning a prize. It includes betting on horse races, sports events, games of skill such as poker and blackjack, lotteries and buying scratch-off tickets. It does not include bona fide business transactions or contracts, such as the purchase or sale of securities or commodities and life, health, and accident insurance.

People who have a gambling disorder find it difficult to control their behavior and may lose more than they can afford to repay. They often hide their gambling from family and friends, and they may engage in illegal activities to fund their addiction. In addition, they may suffer from depression or other psychiatric disorders that make them more likely to gamble.

While the vast majority of people have gambled at some point in their lives, it is important to distinguish between gambling and problem gambling. Identifying the difference is key to getting help for this condition.

Problem gambling, also known as compulsive gambling or pathological gambling (PG), is a mental illness that involves the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling, even when it has a negative impact on your life. Typically, people with PG start gambling in adolescence or young adulthood and develop the problem over several years. Men tend to develop PG at a faster rate and begin gambling at a younger age than women.

Research has shown that there are biological factors, such as a person’s brain anatomy and genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviors, that make them more susceptible to gambling problems. These factors, combined with environmental and social influences, such as living in a culture that endorses gambling, can make it difficult for people to recognize their problem and seek help.

Gambling triggers the reward centers in your brain, and if you are addicted to gambling, your body will release chemicals such as dopamine that reinforce the pleasure you get from it. This can create a vicious cycle, where you feel the need to gamble more and more, leading to greater losses, debt and other financial hardships. It can also damage your relationships with loved ones and lead to legal issues such as stealing or fraud to finance your gambling habit.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any medications to treat gambling disorders, psychotherapy can be helpful for many people with this condition. This type of therapy aims to change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors through various techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy. It can also be useful for addressing any mood disorders that may contribute to the gambling problem, such as depression or anxiety. Changing these underlying conditions can reduce the need to gamble as a way to self-soothe or relieve boredom and stress. It is also helpful to learn healthier ways to cope with unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with non-gambling friends and practicing relaxation techniques.