Understanding Gambling


Gambling is a risky game that involves placing something of value at stake in the hope of winning a prize. It can be done in many different ways, including placing a bet on sports events or the horses, playing slot machines or card games, or even buying a lottery ticket. It’s important to understand how gambling works so that you can play responsibly and avoid causing harm to yourself or others.

While some people gamble for a living, most people only take part in social gambling activities from time to time. These can include card games with friends for small amounts of money, participating in a friendly sports betting pool or buying lottery tickets. Regardless of the type of gambling, it’s important to realize that the chances of winning are very low. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to lose more than they win.

The psychiatric community used to view pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder, a group of somewhat related illnesses that included kleptomania and pyromania (hair pulling). But this past May, in what has been hailed as a landmark decision, the American Psychiatric Association moved pathological gambling into the addictions chapter of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It’s a move that reflects research showing that gambling is very similar to substance abuse in terms of clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity and treatment.

A major problem with gambling is that it can be very difficult to control one’s emotions and urges. In addition, some types of gambling can trigger the production of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that causes feelings of reward. Combined with other factors, such as family history and brain anatomy, these can contribute to a person developing a gambling disorder.

While the underlying issues for gambling disorders vary greatly, treatment options generally fall into three categories: pharmacological, behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapies help individuals learn to recognize and resist their urges, and cognitive-behavioral therapy helps them confront irrational beliefs. The most effective pharmacological treatments are antidepressants and anxiolytics, but these medications don’t work for everyone with gambling disorders.

Ultimately, the only way to overcome an urge to gamble is to use self-control. Postponing gambling can help, as can asking for support from a friend or family member or attending a self-help group for families such as Gam-Anon. Another helpful tool is to seek out physical activity, which can distract the mind from the urge to gamble. For those who do struggle with a gambling disorder, there are a number of resources available, from a national helpline to counselors who specialize in treating gambling disorders. It’s important to seek help if you think you have a gambling disorder, as it can be very dangerous.