Pathological Gambling


The act of placing something of value (usually money) at risk in a game or contest whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. Gambling includes betting on games, sports events, horse races, lottery tickets, casino or video poker machines, bingo, scratch-off tickets, and more. The amount of money wagered legally on gambling games worldwide is estimated to be $10 trillion per year.

Most people gamble for some combination of social, financial and emotional reasons. For example, they may place a bet to win a prize that will change their life or make them feel good. They may also place a bet to escape from boredom or stress. However, when gambling becomes problematic, it is no longer about entertainment and starts to take over a person’s life.

Problem gambling is a mental illness that has serious consequences for the person’s physical and emotional health, work and family life, and finances. In the past, the psychiatric community thought of pathological gambling as a compulsion and included it in a group of impulse control disorders that also included kleptomania and pyromania (hair-pulling). More recently, understanding of the nature of this disorder has undergone profound change. It is now understood that pathological gambling is an addictive behavior, similar to alcoholism and drug addiction. In fact, the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called DSM) places pathological gambling in the addictions chapter.

Some researchers have suggested that the development of gambling disorder is related to an individual’s biological, psychological and social characteristics. The biological component is based on the brain’s reward system. The psychological and social factors include a tendency toward boredom, low self-esteem, poor decision making and an inability to cope with daily stresses. In addition, some individuals who are prone to depression tend to become gamblers.

When a person gambles, the brain is stimulated to produce dopamine in response to positive outcomes, which encourages repeated actions. This reinforces the behavior, and leads to the illusion that a person can continue to win, even against overwhelming odds. In reality, a person will most likely lose.

When a person is gambling, they must set money and time limits in advance to avoid a loss. They should not gamble with money that they are going to use for a bill or other necessary expenses. They should not chase losses because they believe that they will soon come back up. This is known as the gambler’s fallacy. It is a mistake that can lead to devastating consequences. It is best to stop gambling if you are losing too much money, or if it starts interfering with your daily responsibilities. You should never try to recover your losses by hiding the activity or lying about it.