Gambling is an activity in which a person stakes something of value, usually money, upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the control or influence of the gambler, with the potential for winning something of greater value. It is considered a behavioral addiction and, as such, it may be regarded as a mental illness. The term ‘gambling disorder’ was recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) under a new category on behavioral addictions because of research findings that gambling disorders have similar underlying mechanisms to substance-related disorders.
In addition to the psychological and emotional harm, gambling can also be a financial problem, as it often leads to spending more than one’s income. This can result in debt and other serious problems, such as bankruptcy and homelessness. Moreover, pathological gambling has been linked to mood disorders, and depression appears to be a risk factor for pathological gambling. The onset of depression and depressive symptoms is usually prior to the onset of pathological gambling.
Despite these problems, many people continue to engage in gambling. In fact, it is estimated that between 0.4-1.6% of Americans meet DSM-IV criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling. Pathological gambling typically starts in adolescence and early adulthood, and it is more prevalent among men than women. Male pathological gamblers tend to experience problems with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, whereas females have trouble with nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive types of gambling, such as slot machines and bingo.
A person who has a gambling problem will most likely exhibit many of the following characteristics:
Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression; lying to family members and therapists about how much time and money is spent on gambling; stealing to finance gambling; putting other expenses, such as food, clothing, and rent, at risk; engaging in illegal activities, such as forgery, fraud, embezzlement, and theft to fund gambling; or jeopardizing personal safety, health, or work opportunities to gamble. Moreover, they may feel the need to use alcohol or other drugs to help them cope with these feelings.
The first step towards overcoming a gambling addiction is admitting that there is a problem. This can be a difficult task, especially for someone who has strained or broken relationships and lost a lot of money as a result of their habit. However, there are resources available to help, and counseling can be a helpful tool in breaking the cycle. Also, it is important to set limits for yourself when you’re gambling. Start with a fixed amount of money that you can afford to lose, and never go over that limit. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can always win back your losses – this is called chasing your losses and it almost always leads to bigger losses in the long run. Learn to find healthier ways of relieving unpleasant feelings and boredom, such as exercising, socialising with friends who don’t gamble, or practicing relaxation techniques.