Gambling is an activity in which a person puts something of value, typically money, at risk on the outcome of a contest or event with some element of chance. It can involve placing a bet on a game of cards, dice, roulette, horse or dog races, sports events, bingo, video poker and even lottery tickets or scratch-off games. The term gambling can also refer to the act of speculating on business, financial markets and other events.
Compulsive gambling (also known as gambling disorder) involves an intense urge to gamble, despite the negative consequences of doing so. It can have a strong impact on people’s relationships, work and health. It can cause serious debt and can lead to illegal activities, such as theft and fraud. It can lead to feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety and depression. It can even affect the way a person thinks and controls impulses.
Some people are genetically predisposed to gambling addiction. Studies have found that certain genes can affect how a person processes rewards, controls impulses and weighs risk. In addition, some people may have an underactive brain reward system, which can contribute to impulse control problems and risk-taking behaviours.
A person can develop a gambling problem at any age, but it often starts in adolescence or early adulthood. Approximately 0.4% to 1.6% of American adults meet the criteria for pathological gambling. Males are more likely to develop a gambling problem than females. They are more likely to report problems with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack and poker, while females are more likely to have trouble with nonstrategic, less interpersonally interactive forms of gambling, like slot machines or bingo.
Several assessment tools are available to screen for gambling problems. The most commonly used tool is the Gambling Preoccupation Scale (GPS). A GGS score of
If you are concerned about a loved one’s gambling, seek professional advice. A therapist can help you understand your loved one’s motivation to gamble and provide strategies to reduce the urge to gamble. They can also help you create family goals and support structures that promote healthy financial and relationship practices.
If you are struggling with gambling, try to stop doing it or limit how much you spend on it. Set a limit for yourself before you start and stick to it. Only gamble with money you can afford to lose and make sure that gambling does not interfere with your household or personal finances. Try to find other ways to spend your time and money, such as exercising or catching up with friends. Also, remember that you are likely to lose some of your money – it’s the nature of the game. Avoid chasing losses, as this will only increase your losses. Seek support from a therapist and consider family therapy or credit, career or marriage counseling to resolve issues created by problem gambling.