Gambling Disorder

Gambling involves risking something of value, usually money, on an event that is uncertain in outcome and may have the potential for a large prize win. It can also involve wagering materials that do not have monetary value but have a certain amount of intrinsic worth (such as marbles, pogs and Magic: The Gathering trading card collectibles). This activity occurs in casinos, racetracks, card games, slot machines, video poker, instant scratch-off tickets, horse races, sports events and even on the Internet.

For most people, gambling is a recreational activity that is undertaken for fun and enjoyment. However, some people develop a problem that results in the misuse of money or other resources, or becomes an underlying cause of depression and anxiety. In these cases, it is important to seek treatment and support from family, friends or a professional mental health provider.

The symptoms of a gambling disorder typically appear as early as adolescence and can persist into late adulthood. The condition can affect men and women, although it tends to run in families. Biological, environmental and psychosocial factors all contribute to the development of gambling disorder. The condition often begins as a response to stress or anxiety and may be associated with other mental health disorders.

In the past, the psychiatric community generally regarded pathological gambling as more of a compulsion than an addiction. It was placed in a category of impulse control disorders alongside other conditions such as kleptomania and trichotillomania (hair pulling). But in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association moved the disorder into a separate chapter on behavioral addictions.

While the idea that an individual can become addicted to a game of chance like a slot machine is controversial, there is growing consensus that some people do indeed have a gambling disorder. This is because gambling can trigger massive surges of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain, and over time this can change a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior. This means that a person needs to gamble more and more to get the same pleasure, and they can experience negative consequences as a result.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any medications to treat gambling disorder, but several types of psychotherapy can help individuals with the condition overcome unhealthy habits. These methods of treatment are called cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and group therapy. Psychotherapy can be done in person with a trained therapist or in a group setting with other individuals who have similar issues. People with a gambling disorder are also encouraged to practice self-care and find healthy ways to deal with stress, such as exercising, spending time with friends or taking steps to address any other underlying mental health issues. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and drugs, as these can make the problems worse. For financial advice, people who are struggling with debt can speak to StepChange for free and confidential help.