Gambling is risking something of value in the hope of receiving something else of greater value. When people gamble, the brain’s reward center is stimulated and they feel pleasure. Some people become addicted to gambling. They engage in compulsive behavior that can have serious consequences for their families, careers and relationships. They may lie to their friends and family, steal money or even commit crimes to fund their gambling habits. Gambling addiction can be a hidden disease and it is important to seek help if you think you have a problem.
Research on gambling addiction is focused on the causes of the disorder, the ways it affects people and how to treat it. It is becoming increasingly clear that gambling disorders are closely related to substance-related disorders, and they share many features, including neural substrates, physiology and behavioral symptoms. In fact, in the DSM-5, gambling disorders have been moved into a new category on behavioral addictions, which also includes substance-related disorders.
Most people who gamble experience no problems, but a subset develops gambling disorder. This condition is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) as a persistent and recurrent pattern of gambling behavior that involves frequent losses and/or substantial distress or impairment. It can be triggered by an event, such as a major financial setback, loss of a job or divorce. It can also be a response to other problems, such as depression or anxiety.
Those who have a gambling disorder often experience negative emotional and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, guilt, sadness or depression, and they have difficulty controlling their spending. They may spend a lot of time thinking about their gambling or avoid spending time with family and friends. They may also make excuses to justify their gambling, such as saying that they have to “win back” their losses. People with gambling disorder are more likely to have poor family and social relationships and are more at risk for legal issues, such as bankruptcy.
Researchers are interested in understanding how different types of gambling, such as casino gambling, lottery, scratch-off tickets and video poker, affect people’s likelihood of developing a problem. This is because some forms of gambling are more ‘risky’ than others, and as governments around the world expand the availability of these activities, it is important to understand whether these differences contribute to increased rates of problem gambling.
Another area of research is longitudinal studies, which track the same group of people over a long period of time. This allows researchers to better understand the onset and development of both normal and problem gambling behavior. It is also helpful in identifying risk factors that predict the development of problem gambling and in evaluating therapeutic procedures for treating it.
Some common therapeutic treatments for gambling disorder include psychodynamic therapy, which examines unconscious processes that influence a person’s behavior; cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing unhealthy thought patterns; and group therapy, which helps people support one another in their struggle to overcome their addiction. Other treatment options include family and marriage counseling, career and credit counseling, and psychiatric medications.