Gambling Disorders

Gambling is betting or staking something of value on an uncertain event with awareness of the risk and the hope of winning. It can range from scratch-off tickets and street corner lotteries operated by local people with nothing more than a jar of peanuts, to sophisticated casino gambling for profit or as a pastime. There is no single form of gambling that increases the risk of addiction; however, all forms of gambling involve taking a chance on an uncertain outcome, and there is always the possibility of losing money.

Like alcohol or other drugs, gambling can change the way an individual’s brain works by overstimulation of the reward system. This change in brain chemistry may contribute to the development of gambling disorders. In addition, gambling may trigger a variety of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, which often coexist with a person’s gambling problem.

There are a number of ways to cope with a loved one’s gambling disorder, including professional counseling, family therapy, and self-help support groups such as Gam-Anon, an international mutual-support program for families of problem gamblers. Individuals with gambling disorders should seek help as soon as possible to minimize losses and prevent further damage to their lives and those of their families.

Individuals who develop gambling problems come from all walks of life, and can be young or old, rich or poor, male or female, or from any race or religion. They can be urban or rural, and live in small towns or big cities. Problem gambling is a nationwide epidemic, and affects all social classes.

Many individuals who have a gambling problem have trouble stopping or cutting back their gambling, or are secretive about how much they gamble. They might also lie to friends and family, thinking they will be able to cover up their behavior with luck or a large win. They might also attempt to recoup their losses by increasing their bets, an action known as “chasing losses.”

Some individuals develop serious gambling problems because they are motivated by the dream of becoming wealthy, while others have a strong need for the rush of adrenaline and excitement that gambling offers. The psychological factors that drive gambling are not well understood, and the risk of developing a gambling disorder can be greater for some individuals than for others.

In the United States, almost all states have legalized gambling of some kind, and four out of five Americans report that they have gambled at least once in their lives. The popularity of gambling has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and it is now available from almost anywhere that Internet access is available. It is estimated that as many as 20 million Americans have a gambling problem, and it significantly interferes with their daily lives. Despite the widespread availability of gambling, only about half of those with gambling problems receive treatment. The most effective interventions are intensive residential treatment and inpatient rehabilitation programs, which offer round-the-clock supervision and structure.