Pathological Gambling

Gambling involves risking something of value (money or possessions) on an event involving chance, in the hope of winning something else of value. It can involve any number of activities, from scratchcards and fruit machines to sports betting or horse racing. Whether legal or illegal, gambling can be a serious problem. People who gamble can suffer significant financial, psychological and social problems, including addiction. It is important to recognise if you or someone you know has a gambling problem and seek help. There are many organisations that can offer support, assistance and counselling for people who are affected by gambling.

Some people who gamble experience harmful consequences from their behaviour, such as family problems, debt, bankruptcy or job loss. For these people, their gambling becomes a serious problem and is known as pathological gambling. Pathological gambling has been recognised as a mental disorder in various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

While there is no definitive definition of pathological gambling, the DSM criteria include some of the following:

Taking risks

Risk taking is an important part of gambling. It provides a natural high and a sense of excitement. However, the odds of winning are always in favor of the house, so you can expect to lose money most of the time. In addition, people can become addicted to the adrenalin rush they get when they win.


Research suggests that some individuals are predisposed to gambling behavior, partly because of the way their brain reward system works. People with an underactive reward system are more likely to be thrill-seeking and have less control over their impulses. It is also possible that some people are genetically predisposed to gambling because of a family history of the disorder.

Chasing losses

Gambling can be addictive, and it’s very easy to start chasing your losses – thinking that you’re due for a big win or that you can somehow make up for what you’ve lost. The best thing to do is set a fixed amount of money that you are prepared to lose, and stick to it. Remember that gambling is not a way to make money. Leaving your ATM card at home and not bringing it into the casino is one good way to create a limit for yourself. Always tip your dealers, either by handing them a chip and saying “This is for me,” or by placing a bet for them. Don’t ever try to tip cash to them – they’ll never see it! Remember to tip your cocktail waitresses too – they are not getting paid by the casino, so they will need it. And please, never drink alcohol and gamble! It can seriously impair your judgement and affect your ability to stop or control your gambling. This will only lead to more gambling, and probably worse results, in the end.