Gambling Disorders

Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that is at least partly determined by chance. People gamble for a variety of reasons. Some do it for fun, while others do it to try to make money or to relieve boredom. Regardless of the motivation, gambling can become addictive and even lead to serious problems in life.

The psychiatric community has long debated whether pathological gambling is an impulse control disorder like kleptomania (stealing) and pyromania (burning). In the 1980s, researchers began to understand how gambling disorders developed, and in May this year the American Psychiatric Association moved the disorder into its Addictions chapter in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The move is viewed as a landmark decision.

Unlike other addictions, which often develop in adulthood, the development of gambling disorders typically begins during adolescence or young adulthood. In addition, the odds of developing a problem vary according to the type of gambling activity. People who engage in strategic, face-to-face gambling activities such as poker or blackjack have a greater risk of developing a gambling disorder than people who play nonstrategic or Internet-based games such as online casinos or slot machines.

A major reason that gambling is difficult to stop is because people are wired to want the excitement of winning. The brain rewards the dopamine that is released when a person wins. This dopamine rush can trigger cravings that are similar to those triggered by drugs of abuse.

In addition, some people are more likely to develop gambling disorders because of genetic predispositions or a history of trauma or family dysfunction. Other factors that can contribute to a gambling disorder include stress, lack of social support and the availability of legalized gambling in their area.

Another way that people can lose control of their gambling habits is by mismanaging their bankroll. It is important to set a budget for how much you are willing to spend and stick to it. Additionally, it is helpful to set a time limit for how long you will play and to take breaks. It is also a good idea to only gamble with money that you can afford to lose, as it is easy to spend more than you intend to.

Finally, it is important to remember that the chances of losing or winning do not increase or decrease based on previous results. This is known as the law of averages. If you have lost 7 coin flips in a row, the chance that the next one will be heads is still 50%.

There are several treatment options for gambling disorders, including psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a general term for a wide range of techniques that help people identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. These treatments can include cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy and family therapy. In addition, there are some medications that can be used to treat co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety. Lastly, there are also residential and inpatient gambling rehabilitation programs that can be beneficial for those with severe gambling disorders.