Gambling is placing something of value on an event whose outcome is at least partly determined by chance. The word gambler originally referred to someone who engaged in fraudulent games of skill, but the modern meaning of the term encompasses all forms of wagering that involve money and a prize. Many people think that gambling is only about slot machines or casinos, but the truth is, most of us have gambled at one time or another. Buying lottery or scratch tickets, playing bingo, betting on sports events and office pool contests are all forms of gambling.
While gambling is a popular activity, it can be dangerous when it becomes a habit. People with a gambling problem can become dependent on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which causes them to feel good when they win and bad when they lose. This makes it difficult for them to stop gambling when they are losing money.
A person with a gambling problem may exhibit several signs and symptoms, including: (1) lying to family members, friends or a therapist about the extent of involvement in gambling; (2) spending more and more time on gambling activities than usual; (3) experiencing negative feelings such as anxiety, guilt or depression; (4) seeking to recover losses by investing more money or other resources (i.e., chasing); and (5) jeopardizing personal relationships, employment, educational opportunities or financial security because of gambling. The diagnosis of pathological gambling (PG) is made by a psychiatrist or other mental health clinician based on the criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.
Historically, there have been a number of different theories regarding why some people engage in problematic gambling behavior. These include recreational interest, diminished mathematical skills, poor judgment, irrational beliefs about the likelihood of winning or losing, and moral turpitude. Research has shown that some individuals are at increased risk for developing gambling problems based on certain factors, such as a genetic predisposition or environmental influences.
In recent years, research has focused on understanding the biological mechanisms that underlie problematic gambling behaviors. Scientists have found that certain parts of the brain are involved in reward and motivation, and they are examining how these areas respond to various types of gambling activities. In addition, there are several behavioral therapies that can help people with gambling problems.
A therapist can teach a person to replace unwanted thoughts, cravings and behavior with healthy alternatives. They can also teach the person how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a gambling problem and how to cope with them. Some of these techniques include stress-reduction exercises, exercise, spending time with family and friends who don’t gamble, socializing in other ways, enrolling in a class or reading a book. They can also join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. The organization offers a twelve-step program that includes finding a sponsor, who is a former gambler who can offer guidance and support.