Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event whose outcome is uncertain, where instances of skill are discounted. This can include games like slots, roulette, blackjack, poker, and horse racing, as well as sports betting. While the majority of people who gamble do not experience any negative consequences, some are prone to developing an addiction to gambling. Those with an addiction to gambling may have a difficult time stopping, and they often feel the urge to gamble even when they know it is unhealthy for them.
Most adults and adolescents in the United States have placed a bet of some kind, and most do so without any problems. However, a small subset of those who start gambling will develop a disorder of gambling, defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “a pattern of behavior that involves risk-taking with significant distress or impairment.”
The main cause of problem gambling is impulsivity. This can be caused by many factors, including sensation-and novelty-seeking, arousal, and negative emotionality. Moreover, research suggests that the higher the level of impulsivity, the more likely someone is to develop a gambling disorder.
There is also a strong link between gambling and depression. In fact, it has been reported that up to 50% of pathological gamblers have a lifetime mood disorder. In addition, studies have shown that depressive symptoms often precede the onset of gambling disorder.
Several studies have found that social and environmental factors can moderate the risk of gambling disorder. These include a family history of gambling, educational and occupational attainment, and household income. Moreover, individuals who have a traumatic past or have a psychiatric disorder are more vulnerable to developing a gambling disorder.
While a number of models have been developed to explain gambling disorder, a growing body of evidence supports the idea that gambling disorders are a behavioral compulsion. In particular, there is a high rate of co-occurrence between gambling disorder and substance use disorders, particularly in adolescents and young adults.
If you are struggling with a gambling disorder, seek help. Counseling is a powerful tool to help you overcome your addiction and manage your finances. In addition, there are a number of self-help groups available for those who are battling gambling addictions, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Family counseling and marriage, career, and credit counseling can also help you work through issues that triggered your gambling addiction and rebuild your life.