Gambling is the risking of something of value (such as money or a valuable possession) on an uncertain event involving chance, such as a sports match or a scratchcard. People gamble for a variety of reasons, from social to financial. However, gambling may become a problem when it is not used for the intended purposes or causes harm to the individual and/or others. This is called pathological gambling, and is formally recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an addiction.
People who have a gambling disorder experience severe problems in their lives as a result of their addictive behavior. They are unable to control their gambling and often lie about it to their family or friends. Their gambling can also cause emotional distress and physical health problems. They may even become homeless, incarcerated or suicidal.
Many factors contribute to the development of a gambling disorder, including genetics and environmental influences such as childhood experiences. People who have a family history of gambling disorders are more likely to develop the condition, as is evidenced by studies of identical twins. A number of different treatments are available for people with a gambling disorder, and there is increasing recognition that it should be considered as an addiction similar to alcoholism or drug abuse.
There are several types of psychotherapy that can help people with a gambling disorder. These include psychodynamic therapy, which looks at unconscious processes that influence behavior, and group therapy, where people meet with a mental health professional to describe and discuss their problems in a supportive environment. There are also a number of self-help groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous, that offer support and encouragement to those with gambling problems.
Some researchers believe that a major factor in the development of a gambling disorder is an imbalance of reward circuits in the brain. When people gamble, they are rewarded with large surges of dopamine, but the dopamine does not motivate them to do the things that are necessary for survival (like work or eating). Instead, it leads them to seek out more and more gambling activity in order to get the same pleasurable effects.
Other researchers think that a key feature of gambling is the illusion of control. They point out that the odds of winning are carefully arranged by the bookmaker, casino or slot machine manufacturer to ensure that they make a profit over a large number of trials. This creates an illusion that a person is in control of the outcome of the game, and this contributes to the popularity of gambling. This illusion can be reinforced by psychological and emotional factors, such as a desire to avoid regret and a need for positive reinforcement.