Gambling is the act of wagering something of value on a random event, with the intent of winning a prize. It can be done in a casino, at home via internet and on mobile devices, or even in the lottery or bingo. Although some forms of gambling involve skill, many don’t. The odds are that you will lose – it is just not possible to win all the time. Despite the fact that people gamble for many reasons, it is often seen as an unhealthy habit that can lead to addiction, relationship problems, financial difficulties and work-related stress.
It is estimated that there are two million problem gamblers in the United States, with up to 20 million Americans reporting that their gambling interferes with their daily lives. This amounts to a significant cost for society, with gambling harms including psychosomatic symptoms (including cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal) and psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety; financial problems, such as bankruptcy and debt; and family problems, such as neglect of children and spouse. Much more research is needed into the measurement and quantifying of these costs to society.
A range of treatment options are available to help people overcome gambling-related problems, including cognitive behaviour therapy and psychotherapy. Many of these treatments are effective, although the choice of treatment depends on the person, their circumstances and how serious the problem is. For example, some people may benefit from inpatient or residential treatment programs.
Self-help is also an important tool for people seeking to control their gambling behaviour. These include reducing risk factors, such as using credit cards, taking out loans and carrying large amounts of cash; avoiding gambling venues and activities to socialise; and learning healthier ways to relieve boredom or unpleasant emotions. Talking about gambling with someone who won’t judge you can also be helpful, and it is a good idea to seek professional help for problem gambling, such as family therapy and marital, career or credit counselling.
The most common way that gambling causes problems is when it becomes an obsession, and leads to a lack of focus, poor money management skills, emotional distress and family conflict. Other factors include the use of drugs and alcohol, a desire to escape from a painful or stressful life, or to try to achieve a rush like that felt when you win.
In 2014, gambling disorder was included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), under the category of behavioral addictions. This is in recognition of the growing body of evidence that gambling disorder shares many features with substance-related disorders, including brain origins, comorbidity and physiology. In addition, it has been found to be similar in presentation and response to pharmacological treatment. However, some experts feel that more research is needed to ensure that the classification of gambling disorder is accurate. In particular, they point to the need to clarify whether or not the symptoms are primarily psychosomatic and the extent to which the disorder is underpinned by biological factors.