Many people gamble without any problems, but for some it becomes a habit that seriously affects their life. A subset of these individuals may have gambling disorder, which is now recognised as a mental health condition in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Pathological gambling is a complex process, involving psychological and genetic predispositions, as well as altered chemical signalling in the brain.
Gambling involves placing something of value (usually money) on a random event with the hope of winning something else of value. It requires three elements: consideration, risk, and a prize. Most studies of gambling have focused on the economic costs and benefits, which are easily quantifiable. However, the social impacts of gambling can be more difficult to measure.
For some, gambling offers a sense of excitement and adventure, and they enjoy the challenge of trying to win. This is especially true of those in lower socioeconomic groups, where they have fewer opportunities for entertainment and recreation. It can also be a way to socialise with friends, as many people join in a lottery pool or purchase tickets together to increase their chances of winning.
Other people may find gambling a distraction from boredom or negative feelings, such as anxiety or depression. It stimulates the reward centre of the brain and gives them a temporary lift, much like drugs or alcohol do. These effects are often heightened by other factors, such as having an addictive personality, coexisting mental health conditions, and poor coping strategies.
Despite the positives, gambling can be harmful for both individuals and society as a whole. It can lead to increased debt, which in turn can cause strained or broken relationships and even homelessness. It can also lead to illegal activities, such as forgery, fraud, theft, embezzlement, or relying on others to fund the gambling activity or replace money lost. It can also lead to addiction and a lack of motivation, self-esteem, family stability, and work performance.
If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, there are treatment options available to help them overcome their addiction. Psychotherapy is a key tool, with many different types available to suit the individual. For example, psychodynamic therapy can look at how unconscious processes influence a person’s behaviour, while group therapy can provide moral support and motivation to overcome an addiction. A 12-step program, based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, can also help those with an addictive gambling disorder. Other treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy, which can teach a person new coping skills and ways of thinking. For those who have already developed an addiction, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent the deterioration of their physical and mental health.