Gambling involves placing a bet on the outcome of an event, such as a sporting event, a race or a game. It can also refer to risk-taking behaviors that involve speculating on the future, such as investing in stocks and other securities or purchasing insurance. Gambling can be fun and exciting, but it can also be dangerous if you don’t know how to handle your money or have a preexisting mental health condition.
People with gambling disorder often develop a pattern of compulsive behavior that begins in adolescence or young adulthood and continues for years. This can include avoiding activities that would prevent gambling, lying to family and friends, and relying on others to fund their gambling or replace what they’ve lost. In addition, these individuals experience a range of negative psychological and behavioral symptoms.
A key feature of pathological gambling is a desire to control or manipulate the outcome of a gambling activity. This is reflected in the use of multiple strategies to alter the odds of a particular event or activity, such as seeking out information that may change the probability of an outcome (the gambler’s fallacy) or believing that if something has happened frequently in the past it is less likely to happen again in the future (the hot hand).
Research suggests that there are genetic and environmental factors that contribute to a person’s vulnerability to developing gambling disorders. Studies of identical twins show that genetics play a greater role than does environment, suggesting that some genes are predisposed to developing gambling disorders. Gambling disorders can run in families, and some researchers believe that there is a link between these disorders and adverse childhood experiences.
Longitudinal studies are needed to better understand the etiology of gambling disorders. However, these types of studies are very expensive and difficult to mount. In addition, they can be influenced by sample attrition, aging effects and period effects (e.g., is a person’s increased interest in gambling due to age or because a new casino opened nearby).
Although research on the relationship between gambling disorders and genetic and environmental factors is ongoing, we do not yet have complete understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the development and maintenance of these behaviors. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that pathological gambling is an addiction and should be classified as such.
Individuals who have a gambling disorder need to build a strong support system to help them overcome their urges. They should also consider professional treatment and therapy, which can be helpful in decreasing the frequency of a gambling episode. They can seek psychodynamic therapy to gain a deeper awareness of unconscious processes that influence their behavior, or attend group therapy, which provides a community of others who are dealing with similar issues. They should also take steps to limit access to their credit cards and other assets, close online betting accounts and keep only a small amount of cash on them.