Gambling As an Addiction


Gambling involves risking money or other valuables on an event that has a degree of randomness and chance, such as the outcome of a game of chance, a raffle, a lottery, a horse race, or a sports bet. It may also involve a wager on business, insurance policies, or stock markets. In all cases, the goal is to win a prize, whether it be money or other goods and services. It is important to understand how gambling works and what factors may provoke problematic gambling behavior.

A person is considered to have a gambling problem when his or her gambling causes significant distress in his or her personal, family, or financial life. Symptoms of a gambling problem include: (1) lying to a family member or therapist to conceal the extent of involvement in gambling; (2) spending more and more time at casinos, bookmakers, and other places where gambling is conducted; (3) making frequent visits to gambling websites; (4) avoiding friends or socializing without gambling; (5) betting on anything other than sporting events; (6) chasing losses (believing that they will be lucky again and recoup their losses); and (7) engaging in illegal activities such as forgery, embezzlement, theft, and fraud to finance gambling activities (American Psychiatric Association 2000).

While some people enjoy gambling as a recreational activity, for others it becomes an addictive habit that negatively impacts their lives and the lives of those around them. In fact, gambling has been described as akin to a drug addiction, with the same biological, psychological, and behavioral consequences. It is important to recognize the warning signs and take steps to break free of this harmful behavior.

One of the best ways to help a loved one with gambling problems is to strengthen his or her support network and encourage him or her to socialize in other ways. It is also important to reduce the financial risks of gambling, including limiting credit card use and avoiding borrowing large sums of money. Another option is to seek therapy, either through individual counseling or a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which follows a twelve-step recovery model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.

During a game of chance, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good when we win. This feeling is reinforced if we keep playing, and can cause us to ignore negative consequences or rationalize our gambling habits. In addition, the illusion of a “gambler’s fallacy” can make us think that we are due for a big win and that our luck will change for the better.

Many people develop a pathological gambling disorder in adolescence or young adulthood, and it is more common among men than women. Typically, it begins in the form of strategic or face-to-face gambling behaviors, such as blackjack and poker. However, people with a gambling problem also report difficulty with nonstrategic and less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, such as bingo or slot machines. While integrated treatments exist, they have only varying degrees of effectiveness.