Gambling Disorders

Gambling is an activity where people bet something of value (money, property, or other assets) on a random event that may or not happen. In order for a gambling event to occur, three things must be present: consideration, risk, and a prize.

Although most adults and teenagers engage in some form of gambling, a small percentage develop problems with it. These individuals experience significant and negative personal, social, family, and financial impacts. These individuals also have higher rates of addiction and depression. These people are known as problem gamblers and are categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as having a gambling disorder.

In addition to the obvious cost of money spent on bets, other costs of gambling include the opportunity cost of the time lost while engaged in the activity. In some cases, these individuals will be missing out on important events and other activities. The psychological costs of gambling can also be very high, as it leads to feelings of anxiety and stress. This can impact a person’s sleep patterns and lead to other health issues.

When people gamble, their brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes them feel excited. This response can be addictive and is similar to the feeling that one gets from taking drugs of abuse. This is why it’s important to keep a healthy balance of emotions and to gamble responsibly.

A person can have a gambling disorder if they have: (1) a significant amount of time is spent on the activity; (2) he or she bets with money that cannot be easily replaced, such as a paycheck or savings; (3) he or she lies to family members, therapists, or coworkers about his or her involvement in gambling; (4) he or she often returns to gamble after losing, trying to make up for previous losses (“chasing” one’s losses); (5) he or she engages in illegal acts to finance the gambling (forgery, embezzlement, theft, etc.); or (6) he or she has jeopardized a relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the gambling.

Gambling can have negative effects on a person’s self-esteem, relationships, work performance, and physical and mental health. It can affect the lives of not just the person who gambles but family, friends, and coworkers as well. Some of these negative impacts can be difficult to see, especially when a loved one is struggling with a gambling disorder. However, it’s important to remember that your loved one did not choose to become addicted to gambling and they probably don’t realize the severity of their behavior. Understanding this can help you respond in a more helpful way. Also, remember that some communities have a culture of gambling and it may be hard to recognize a problem. This can be especially true for teens who are exposed to gambling through popular culture, at schools, and in their community. It’s important to discuss these cultural influences with your loved one and encourage them to seek professional help when needed.