Gambling involves risking something of value (such as money, property or possessions) on an uncertain outcome. There are many different types of gambling, including lotteries, horse races, sports events and electronic games. Gambling is a popular activity and the estimated global annual turnover of legal gambling is $10 trillion.
While many people enjoy the thrill of winning big when they gamble, others become preoccupied with it and develop a problem. This type of behavior is referred to as pathological gambling and is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Pathological gambling can also have serious social consequences such as jeopardizing or losing a job, relationships or educational or career opportunities. It is also known to have high comorbidity with other behavioral disorders and substance abuse, particularly with depressive mood disorder.
The euphoria associated with gambling is caused by the release of neurotransmitters that activate reward circuits in the brain. However, this sensation does not last very long. People who gamble in order to achieve this feeling often end up spending more than they have available and find themselves in financial trouble. Some of them may even turn to criminal activities in order to fund their addiction, a situation known as pathological crime.
Research has shown that the majority of people who experience problems with gambling do not have a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder. This is likely due to the difficulty of measuring the severity of the problem, as well as the fact that people who are addicted to gambling often do not seek treatment (Esposito & Halligan, 2003).
It is important for friends and family members of those with gambling problems to understand the nature of the disease and to provide support and encouragement. In addition, it is crucial to set boundaries with regard to managing the gambler’s finances and to carefully monitor bank and credit card statements. It is also helpful to encourage the gambler to seek help and to support them throughout their recovery process, which will likely be a lengthy journey peppered with setbacks.
Realizing that one has a gambling problem takes tremendous strength and courage. Especially for those who have lost a great deal of money and/or suffered damaged relationships because of it. Fortunately, there are many effective therapies for this disorder and a growing number of former gambling addicts have successfully rebuilt their lives and regained their self-esteem.